During Nutrition Month and throughout the year, MCHIP is working with others around the world to reduce malnutrition.
Undernutrition is the underlying cause of 35 percent of deaths in children younger than five years of age. Severe malnutrition kills, but less severe cases increase susceptibility to and mortality from diarrhea, pneumonia, malaria, tuberculosis, and other infectious diseases. Because so many children are mildly to moderately malnourished in developing countries, more deaths are associated with these forms of malnutrition than severe malnutrition. Tackling the problem of malnutrition requires multi-discipline and sectoral approaches.
For example, MCHIP is supporting the integration of family planning and infant and young child nutrition counseling as a way to help women protect their health and that of their children. Because studies have shown that couples who wait at least two years after the birth of their last child before conceiving again are most likely to have healthy, full-term pregnancies and well-nourished infants and children, MCHIP is working to bring this message during family and nutrition contacts. . Mothers who exclusively breastfeed their babies during the first six months are providing the best nutrition for their infants and, if they do not have a return of menses, are using an effective method of contraception called Lactational Amenorrhea Method (LAM).
Exclusively breastfeeding during the first six months and then adding optimal complementary foods starting at six months while continuing to breastfeed through two years prevents malnutrition in infants and young children. At the same time, mothers need to transition from LAM to other forms of family planning when they start complementary feeding since they are at risk of another pregnancy.
MCHIP is capitalizing on opportunities for integrating interventions between maternal, infant and young child nutrition (MIYCN) and family planning (FP) in the following key areas: birth to pregnancy intervals and related outcomes, prevention of unintended pregnancy, maternal nutrition and health, and infant and young child nutrition. Integrating family planning and infant and young child nutrition counseling has the potential to increase coverage for both programs, and save the lives of mothers and their babies.
The nutritional health status of a mother is at risk during pregnancy and lactation. Maternal anemia, even moderate cases, increases the risk of death during delivery. A Lancet series on maternal and child under-nutrition estimated that 20 percent of maternal deaths are due to maternal iron-deficiency anemia and stunting in women. To improve programming in these areas, MCHIP is promoting innovative strategies to solve supply and demand barriers to successful programs. MCHIP will be investigating schemes such as pay-for-performance to increase the number of women receiving iron-folic acid supplements from health workers, and using cell phones to remind women to take their iron-folic acid supplements. Integrating family planning and nutrition messages has the potential to increase birth intervals which will decrease preterm births, small for gestational age babies, and anemia in women.
MCHIP is working to offer a set of interventions that maximizes maternal and child survival and improves nutritional status. We have the opportunity to capitalize on existing momentum, and unite efforts between infant nutrition and family planning. The challenge is how to best enhance collaboration and maximize the potential impact in both of these intervention areas for the benefit of the mother and child.