Boosting community awareness on health and nutrition issues during the COVID-19 emergency


The Herald

Cynthia Ncube

Takudzwa Mutonho, (29) lives in Norton’s Twin Lakes Park – a typical developing low density area in a small town in Zimbabwe’s Mashonaland West Province. With only a few families in a street, everyone knows each other, creating an extended family feeling. He makes a living through freelance journalism and public relations work and helps his parents run their farm.

Sitting in his simple, sparsely furnished brick house, he fondly recalls caring for his sisters’ babies when they were young.

Takudzwa, who had no prior knowledge of how to take care of babies said he was part of a family where there was a baby so they would take turns to tend to it. “This included feeding the baby, it felt good knowing I was contributing to its life,” he said.

Takudzwa was not alone. His situation reflects many Zimbabwean men who at some point in their lives assist in taking care of and feeding young children – either their own children or someone else’s. He has a keen interest in assisting with these tasks, which are often considered a woman’s responsibility by society.

However, like most men, Takudzwa had inadequate information on caring for or feeding young children and this limited the support he could give his sister.

It was only when he stumbled upon, ‘Live Well; The Health and Nutrition Show ‘on Capitalk FM that he gained the knowledge he now enthusiastically uses when caring for his nieces and nephews.

“Í heard the programme on Capitalk FM. I have always been a lover of talk radio, so I always listen to radio and as for the program I sort of stumbled upon it,” he said. “As I was having my breakfast, it must have been a Thursday, I continued listening and haven’t stopped since. I have lost count of the number of episodes that I have listened to now.”

Takudzwa added that what keeps him interested in the radio program is that it always has a good discussion and much of it is localized, relevant and speaks to issues that one can easily relate to. Past episodes have focused on nutrition in the context of COVID-19.

These included expert talks from health and medical practitioners giving detailed information on nutrition and feeding for babies and young children.

“Live Well: The Health and Nutrition Show” is hosted on Capitalk FM, Skyzmetro FM, Hevoi FM, Diamond FM and Nyaminyami FM each week.

The country is experiencing an increase in the number of children with acute malnutrition resulting from food insecurity, compromised childcare and feeding practices due to negative coping mechanisms. Negative practices also include the low involvement of men in childcare and feeding of young children.

To raise awareness about acute malnutrition and its implications on children, UNICEF in partnership with the Ministry of Health and Child Care, rolled out a nutrition in emergencies integrated social behaviour change communication and public information campaign.

The campaign includes community radio broadcasts and interpersonal communication at health facilities and food distribution points. The radio programme is a family centred programme that brings the latest information the public needs to know on health and nutrition in the context of COVID-19.

The campaign is mostly funded through the Central Emergency Relief Fund (CERF) and is running for six months. It has a large nutrition and COVID-19 focus whilst integrating other related areas.

Overcoming challenges

The radio broadcasts are gaining traction and seeing benefits through empowering the public with crucial information in the face of a double emergency.

“I learnt that a baby must be exclusively breastfed for 6 months and about the food groups that make a diet that is healthy for a baby after the period of breastfeeding,” said Takudzwa.

“I also learnt that a healthy diet for a baby is something that does not really require parting with a lot of money but using easily available foods that can be grown in backyard gardens and orchards.”

Speaking to the nation, delivering hope

The Nutrition Specialist for City of Harare, Rumbidzai Chituwu said the  radio shows supported by UNICEF have been extremely useful and bridging the gap in providing credible health and nutrition information to the community as traditional ways of providing information such as health education talks at the clinic have been suspended because of COVID-19.

“Male participation in infant and young child feeding issues was enhanced as the role of men was elucidated during the programmes as evidenced by men contributing more on the different topics than women,” she said. “Furthermore, having male nutritionists as facilitators in topics such as infant feeding motivated more men to be involved.”

Conrad Humba Mwanawashe, a Producer/Presenter at Capitalk FM said there is a misconception that only women should understand health and nutrition issues. “This kind of programming helps to demystify these critical issues and show the role of men, as part of the greater society, in health and nutrition,” he said.

Takudzwa, leaning over to the speakers where he listens to the radio concluded, “I know caregiving especially for babies comes naturally, but in as much as that is so, and most people are well meaning, it is important to be informed about how to do it especially about the food and health of the child.”- Unicef Zimbabwe


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