[This information] helped us to know … what is on the ground in terms of food security in the households.
– Kamfwa Mubanga
At a recent Adolescent Wellness Day event, Kamfwa Mubanga noticed that many of the young people looked smaller than normal for their ages. The following month, Mubanga, acting district nutritional officer in Zambia’s Itezhi-Tezhi district, decided to find out why. She conducted a nutritional assessment with 178 adolescents who participated in Itezhi-Tezhi’s September wellness day.
The results confirmed Mubanga’s worst fears: more than half of the adolescents were stunted and undernourished, with moderate to acute malnutrition. “I had suspected that there could have been a problem of nutrition … but not to this extent,” Mubanga says.
Adolescent Wellness Days, implemented in conjunction with the Johns Hopkins Center for Communication Programs’ Breakthrough ACTION Zambia and Zambia’s Ministry of Health, are held monthly at select health facilities in four Zambian provinces. They are designed to reposition clinics as wellness centers rather than places where only sick people go for treatment. They provide access to services and information on general health as well as issues related to HIV, malaria, nutrition and family planning.
Without these wellness days, Mubanga says, she would not have uncovered this serious nutrition problem among adolescents – and wouldn’t be able to work to remedy it. In Zambia, nutrition work is largely focused on young children, pregnant women and people who are undergoing HIV treatment. Now, she wants to explore how the district can extend its food supplements program to adolescents, particularly those who are malnourished.
As Mubanga has spoken more with adolescents to uncover the cause of the malnutrition and stunting, she learned that most households can only provide one meal per day. “This is worrying as it may affect performance of adolescents in schools and participation in various activities within their communities,” she says. “[This information] helped us to know … what is on the ground in terms of food security in the households.”
Many local families have been hurt by low rainfall which has led to poor harvests, Mubanga says.
Now that they are aware of this pressing problem, Mubanga and her staff are working to figure out how best to provide nutrition services to adolescents. She plans to conduct health education sessions in schools and communities to raise awareness about locally available foods that are high in nutritional value.
Maria has become something of an entrepreneur, growing and diversifying her wares. She took out more loans and started selling cloth, basins and essentials like soap and sugar. Since she started, Maria has taken and paid back loans amounting to $205 – an amount she would have never been able to obtain on her own. Maria now owns a shop, which brings her a healthy profit of $10 a day. She uses this money to pay for school fees, buy her household necessities and reinvest into her Village Savings and Loan group.