Improving Maternal and Infant Health through good nutrition during the COVID-19 pandemic
“I am the third wife in our home with two children and currently pregnant with my third child. I dropped out of school when I was in the sixth grade in 2014. My parents died when I was just a child and with no one to take care of me, the only solution was getting married at the age of 16 years.
Living in a polygamous marriage is not easy but things got worse when our community was hit by a drought. Food became hard to find as we largely depend on growing our food. Our family is large with my husband, three fellow wives and our 8 children. Apart from farming, I am in charge of the family grocery shop with my husband. My husband put me in charge because I know how to read and write and the other wives also support me. The family grocery shop has not been doing so well because people in the community have no money to buy things. This started after the coronavirus disease restrictions were introduced. My husband has been having challenges restocking the shop due to the limited capital as a lot of business was lost when the restrictions were imposed.
Access to food was not a problem in the past years. I would harvest maize and groundnuts that would last me to the next crop season. The 2018/2019 season was difficult because we run out of food by July. The food insecurity was so severe that my children and I only ate two meals or sometimes one meal in a day. It got worse when I became pregnant. My wellbeing was not as good as I became weak. Even walking to the clinic for antenatal was a challenge. This made me miss my routine visits. The situation changed when I heard that the clinic was giving soya to pregnant and breastfeeding mothers. I was happy to hear that and immediately started going to the clinic because I am pregnant and still breastfeeding my baby girl. I did not want to get pregnant but it is difficult to prevent pregnancies in my community. I know the soy will make my unborn baby healthy. My daughter also enjoys this soya very much and I prepare it for her whenever she asks for it. Another positive I have seen since we started receiving the soya is that my husband is less stressed in terms of providing food for the family because all the wives and the children can eat the soya.” *Esther, 22-year-old pregnant and mother of two.
Southern Province was hit by the drought that affected the 2019/2020 farming season. The drought resulted in low crop yields and the loss of animals that affected food security for many households. The COVID-19 restrictions further compounded the situation with reduced income sources for most households.
The hunger situation saw a reduction in the number of pregnant women attending antenatal services. This contributed to many lactating women weaning their babies early because they are unable to produce enough milk for breastfeeding. The data from selected rural health centres showed low access to antennal services and high levels of malnutrition for under-five children. SCI started distributing High Energy Protein Supplements (HEPS) months with each woman allocated 9 kg per month. The increased demand for the HEPS in the community led to a reduction of the allotted quantity from 9kg to 6kg to carter for more women.
The HEPS has been procured with funding from the Dutch Relief Alliance.
*Esther, name changed for safeguarding reasons