This guest post was provided by Tahiya Alam, Cardno Emerging Markets
The United States remains at the forefront of increasing global trends targeting nutrition as a vital component for global health programming. In its far-reaching 2014-2025 Multi-Sectoral Nutrition Strategy, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) reaffirms its commitment to global nutrition and aims to reduce chronic malnutrition by 20% across its own health, food security and other development programs. These efforts address the significant health risks associated with malnutrition in developing nations that not only contribute to stunting, but also further compromise the health status of people living with HIV/AIDS. Having HIV/AIDS can lead to reduced nutrient absorption, often contributing to significant weight loss, known as wasting. Simultaneously, poor nutrition can exacerbate infections in HIV positive individuals, creating a compounding negative effect on overall health. Of those affected by food and nutritional insecurities, orphans and other vulnerable children (OVC) are often the biggest victims due to their reliance on caregivers, who may also be directly impacted by HIV/AIDS in their communities.
With roughly 20% of the population living in poverty, Uganda is particularly susceptible to the burden of poor nutrition on health. According to the 2011 Uganda Demographic and Health Survey, 33% of Ugandan children under five years of age are stunted. Furthermore, children residing in rural areas of the country, where the majority of the population resides, have a significantly higher risk of being underweight than children from urban areas. Considering the significant effects of HIV/AIDS in the Ugandan population, the USAID/Uganda Private Health Support Program works to both prevent and treat malnutrition, contributing to the reduction of the burden of malnutrition.
This five-year, flagship USAID private sector program in Uganda works to contribute to a more viable and cost-effective private sector option for health services in the country. Implemented by Cardno Emerging Markets USA Ltd., the program has expanded to include private not for profit (PNFP) sites in an effort to mobilize and strengthen a larger portion of basic health services in Uganda. While program activities span a wide breadth of health areas, key strategic activities have focused on nutrition in an effort to highlight the inherent link between nutrition and HIV/AIDS.
Capacity Building Efforts:
Through the program’s collaboration with the Ugandan Ministry of Health, more than 25 private sites have been given technical training and support for their Nutrition Assessment, Counselling and Support (NACS) services. These trainings serve to further reinforce to health workers how to best identify symptoms of malnutrition and provide messaging on the importance of nutrition. Effective monitoring and referral systems ensure that the proper treatment is being given to patients to prevent further deterioration of health. This capacity building strategy is especially important in Uganda since a significant portion of HIV positive patients visit private facilities for their treatment.
Collaboration with Community Stakeholders:
In conjunction with the trainings provided to private health service providers, the program’s PNFP activity liaises with faith-based and community organizations to educate community members on essential communication, nutrition, food safety, and hygiene issues. Through grassroots techniques, this activity targets OVC caregivers in an effort to disseminate critical health information to the most vulnerable families. Local languages and foods are customized for different regions to provide culturally appropriate trainings in community settings. The classroom learning is paired with practical demonstrations to facilitate absorption and retention of the information provided. Additionally, follow up support is given to the community organizations to ensure sustainability of trainings. Over the past year, the program has successfully conducted trainings for over 3,200 caregivers/households across 25 districts in Uganda.
Vegetable Gardening Projects:
The program also works to establish school vegetable gardening projects in an effort to supplement the nutritional training given to caregivers through the PNFP activity. The Masanafu Children Support Project represents one of the many organizations that receives funding under the Program. Children in the Masanafu area of Kampala District were previously unable to practice agricultural skills due to the lack of space resulting from crowded housing. The gardening project has given children the chance to participate in growing vegetables by providing them with a communal gardening space. This project not only highlights the importance of dietary diversity to the students but also directly contributes to their improved nutritional status through the addition of harvested vegetables into school lunches. The Masanafu Children Support Project currently supports six schools, benefiting an estimated 1,200 children.