Mothers in Tanzania Fight the “Disease with No Name” – United Republic of Tanzania

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In Tanzania, Action Against Hunger helps to improve maternal and child nutrition for more than 211,000 children and adolescent mothers in four rural districts in Tanzania. We are scaling up proven interventions, including providing micronutrient supplements, treating acute malnutrition in communities and at health centers, and fostering mother-to-mother support groups — laying the foundation for children to achieve their full potential as adults.

One of Action Against Hunger’s photographers visited Mpwapwa, an area where more than 1 in 3 children is malnourished, to hear, firsthand, the difference our programs have meant for mothers, their communities, and most importantly, the children who have survived “the disease with no name.”

MERINA & RICHARD

“In my village, we know how important it is to provide a healthy diet for our children, but that can be expensive, particularly if you rely on the land and don’t have a lot of money.

Every mother wants to provide their child with a healthy diet, but how are we supposed to do this? When people talk about the five food groups, what are they? Before we thought perhaps the foods we needed were bananas, mangos, and oranges, but these can be expensive and must be bought from a market.

This program has opened our eyes and taught us how we can provide a balanced diet, despite the challenges we face.

The food our children need is all around us.”

LAHELI & MAIKO

“When my son was sick, I suffered terribly. I visited different hospitals and nobody knew what was wrong with him. In this district there wasn’t any knowledge or treatment of malnutrition.

Maiko suffered for so long and it was heartbreaking to watch. He had rashes on his skin, was very weak, and he lost weight. He had so many ailments; he couldn’t even walk; he would just sit there, not moving.

When this program was introduced, they quickly diagnosed my son with malnutrition. He was treated for two months and I received counseling on how I could support him.

Getting this diagnosis meant I was no longer afraid. I knew Maiko would survive. The diagnosis brought me hope.”

YUSTER & JOEL

“I have six children and Joel, here, is my youngest. He is almost four.

I have been a community health worker for a number of years, supporting a range of initiatives including elephantitis and supporting people living with HIV. I have been working with Action Against Hunger for a year now.

My community didn’t know what malnutrition was. They had no idea.

In my community, there are a number of taboos that have held us back. Traditionally, women and children shouldn’t eat eggs, kidneys, liver, things like that. This is food for the men and the old people. It is not for children or women.

Even food distribution in the household has been a problem. If a mother prepares a chicken or beef, something like that, it is the men who are the priority and the children come after. The children get small portions, while the men are satisfied.

Now that the children are getting meat, eggs, vegetables – a more varied diet, we have seen an improvement. These are foods that are full of important nutrients for our children.

I’m really proud of my community and the difference that mothers are making for our children.”

DAMARI & ROSE

“Thankfully, my Rose has never suffered from malnutrition, but it is something I have witnessed in my community. My neighbor’s children would get sick all the time, but we never knew anything about malnutrition.

The doctors would do their best to treat the children, but there wasn’t any treatment for malnutrition at the hospitals. Thankfully, that has now changed.

Now the children can get treatment, but more importantly, we know how to provide more nutritious meals to help our children avoid illness. Before, a mother might leave in the morning to work in the fields and prepare a maize porridge to get their children through the day. The child would be full, but wouldn’t get the nutrients they need.

Now we understand how important it is that our children get a varied diet, and mothers know how simple it is to make meals more nutritious. Simple things like adding fruit and vegetables to porridge.

Now every mother appreciates how important nutrition is to keep their children healthy.”

ESTER & GRAYSON

“My name is Ester, I am 24 and I have two children. This is my youngest child, Grayson.

When my son was ill, he would just lie there, not moving. The sun could come, the rain could come. He wouldn’t move. He would just lie there.

I didn’t know why my son was sick. I had never heard of malnutrition.

When the community health worker came to visit me, she immediately identified that Grayson was malnourished. He was referred to Mpwapwa hospital, where he stayed for two months. His condition was very severe.

After leaving the hospital, the community health worker continued to visit me every week. When she visited and told me that my son was no longer malnourished, I was so relieved.”

SOPHIA & MUSA

“This program has brought me closer to my child and I think it has made me a more responsible mother. That is why I think it is important that I share these lessons with other mothers in my community.

I have three children, but when you compare Musa with my older children, the difference is obvious.

I’ve learned about the dangers of malnutrition and the role I can play to ensure my children don’t succumb to this disease. I also know how important my child’s diet is for their development.

Before, I believed that two big meals would be enough for my children. Now I know that it isn’t just about having enough food, but the food must be nutritious. Now my children eat very well and they are getting the five groups of food they need.”

MARIAM & SAMSON

“I know now that my Samson was suffering from malnutrition. When he was ill, he would just sleep, and when he wasn’t sleeping, he was crying. He was very weak.

At the time I knew nothing of malnutrition. My other children had never suffered or been sick like Samson.

Life is not easy for us. I would normally prepare porridge in the morning for my children, though I must confess I didn’t know about the role nutrients played in making my child healthy. I think that is one of the reasons that my son suffered.

Samson was one of the first children to receive treatment for malnutrition in our village. Since his treatment, he has never had to revisit the doctor. He is doing really well now, he is growing.

Now my Samson is a very charming boy. He wanders around the village with no problems at all. He is doing really well.”

YUNIS & GLORIA

“My baby is only nine months old. My older child is three and I think, knowing what I know now, that she was suffering from malnutrition.

With my older child, I was feeding her porridge a few days after birth. That is the tradition in our village. We didn’t know that it was bad for the child. He would cry and so we fed him. This is what we have always done, even my mother did not know how important breastfeeding is for our children.

With this child, I only breastfed her for the first six months. Now she is older, and I know what I must feed her to ensure she gets the nutrients and vitamins she needs. Because of this, she hasn’t suffered like my older child.

I think this program will save a lot of children. Before we never knew why our children were getting ill, and as parents, we were suffering.”

FURAHA & DONATA

“I am a mother of four and my youngest child is just two months. This project taught me to open my mind to the threat of malnutrition and the role the mother must play during pregnancy.

For my first three children, I had never visited a clinic before at least six months into my pregnancy. But since learning about malnutrition and the role the mother’s health plays, I visited the clinic as soon as I found out I was pregnant.

Malnutrition can begin during pregnancy, and so it is important the mother remains healthy. If I am ill, my child can become ill.

At first, I faced challenges in the community about my decision to exclusively breastfeed my child for the first six months. Some people in the community don’t believe breastfeeding is enough for a child. They would say: ‘Please, please, please, the child is crying, give them some food.’ But I said no. This is my child and I know what he needs. I must stand up as a mother.

I have been healthier because of what I learned from the health workers, and I believe that is why my Donata is healthier.”

AMIA & GIFTI

“This is my only child, his name is Gifti.

My mother never knew anything about diversifying your diet and so I didn’t learn these lessons. Before, I would just boil a simple porridge, that is what is traditionally prepared in our community.

But since learning from the health workers about a varied diet, it has changed how I think about food and how I feed my child.

When the health workers arrived in our community, they visited Gifti. He wasn’t putting on weight and he didn’t seem to be growing. On the MUAC tape, he measured yellow, which meant that he was malnourished.

But as soon as I changed his diet, he began to put on weight. The changes I have made are not massive, but the difference is obvious.

Before, I didn’t know about nutrients. I would just make porridge. Now I put in lots of ingredients to help my son grow strong: peanuts, milk, fruit from the baobab tree, which provides Vitamin C.

All these things were there, but I never used them. They don’t cost a lot of money, many of them are free, but the difference it makes is noticeable.

I have been able to teach my mother-in-law the importance of this new way of thinking. It wasn’t how she raised her own children, but she can see the difference it is making for Gifti and is supportive.”

Action Against Hunger is the world’s hunger specialist and leader in a global movement that aims to end life-threatening hunger for good within our lifetimes. For 40 years, the humanitarian and development organization has been on the front lines, treating and preventing hunger across nearly 50 countries. It served more than 21 million people in 2018 alone.

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