By Jennifer O’Riordan

The word malnutrition commonly conjures up an image of a small child or infant in need of nourishment at perhaps the most critical time of their growth. However, they are just as vulnerable to malnutrition before they are even born.

A woman who is unable to maintain a certain level of nutrition while pregnant is often at risk of giving birth to an underweight child. Children born underweight are much more prone to conditions like diabetes and hypertension.

As part of the Food for Education program, funded by the U.S. Agriculture Department, Counterpart has trained community health workers and rehabilitated a number of health huts that give people easy access to healthcare and guidance.

Malnutrition is a condition that not only affects small children, but adults too. And so in Senegal, Counterpart is focusing its efforts on two of the most vulnerable groups; pregnant and lactating women and children.

In Ndioum, northern Senegal, the rehabilitated health hut there is proving to be an invaluable addition to the community. Without the maternity services offered at the Ndioum clinic, many women would be forced to give birth at home as they cannot afford the treatment at the nearby hospital.

“Given that we live in an impoverished area the women prefer to receive quality care here for a better price than pay exorbitant prices for hospital care,” says Saidou Sall, Head Nurse of the facility’s maternity ward.

Senegal has an infant mortality rate of 56 in every 1000, according to the World Bank. This may not be the highest rate of infant mortality on the continent, but it is certainly too high to ignore.

At another health hut in Matam, Counterpart-trained staff are also distributing nutrient-packed rations to malnourished children and monitoring their progress over time. The provision of this food is combined with counseling so that mothers can improve their child’s nutrition in the long-term and not just the short-term.

“We’ve had so many success stories of finding women and educating them to the point where she knows what is good to give her baby. That’s real success,” explains Idrisse Gueye, who works with Counterpart’s health program in Senegal.

“Change is not just happening with mothers in the community but here as well,” Idrisse continues. “The staff here even before would not have had any idea about nutrition or health or community health or project management but now they are things we all know.

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