Local food helping to keep mothers and babies healthy in Timor-Leste

WFP Asia & Pacific
Feb 7, 2018 · 4 min read

The mothers came with their babies in their arms. Pregnant women, fathers and small children gathered at the Beobe Health Post in Viqueque on January 16th to learn how to address malnutrition — one of the biggest challenges this small nation currently faces.

Timor-Leste has the highest levels of malnutrition in Asia, and pregnant women and nursing mothers are especially vulnerable.

For parents in Viqueque, this was also an opportunity to collect their first supply of Timor Vita, a locally produced super cereal designed to prevent and treat under-nutrition. Made of corn, soy beans, vitamins and minerals, Timor Vita is an easy to cook food supplement that can add crucial nutrients to a mother’s diet during pregnancy and breastfeeding.

Parents wait to receive Timor Vita in Viqueque. Photo: WFP/Denita Baptista

Originally supporting mothers in 6 municipalities as part of its management of acute malnutrition programme, WFP has temporarily expanded into an additional 3 municipalities in the east of the country, with support from KOICA. This includes Viqueque, Baucau and Lautem. In December 2017, 3,561 pregnant and nursing mothers in these 3 municipalities received their first ration of Timor Vita.These areas were severely affected by El Niño, which threatened farmer’s ability to grow crops and feed their families.

Parents in these areas aren’t just receiving Timor Vita but have the opportunity to attend nutrition and gender education sessions. Here, they learn how to cook Timor Vita and incorporate it into their diets. To achieve this, WFP is working in partnership with CARE International and under the request of the Ministry of Health.

For parents in Viqueque, attending the health post was an exciting opportunity to listen to health practitioners and staff from CARE International, who conducted the information sessions. They make sure the pregnant and nursing women understood how to cook with Timor Vita, and encouraged parents to incorporate more diverse, nutritious, affordable and locally-available foods into their diets.

Casilda Soares is a 26-year-old mother of a 3-week-old baby girl. This was her first time receiving Timor Vita and was excited to try it. She learned about the distribution from an announcement from health staff and thought the nutrition information would be useful as she just had her first child. She admitted that she did not have much experience with a newborn. She came to the health post with her husband to attend the information session and receive the nutritious supplementary food.

Casilda Soares after collecting her first supply of Timor Vita. This will help to keep her and her baby healthy. Photo: WFP/Denita Baptista

Maria Lourdes Gomes, CARE International Official Facilitator in Viqueque, said her experience is helping her to know the best way to engage with pregnant and nursing women on nutrition and gender education.

“We do the information session first, explain everything, do the registration and distribute Timor Vita at the end,” she said. She also makes sure every woman that receives Timor Vita also gets posters from WFP and an informative leaflet about Timor Vita.

She is happy to explain how to cook using Timor Vita again to those who arrive late. “Even after a long tiring day,” she said, “because we want to make sure they get the information and understand so that they can use it within their household.”

A CARE International staff member explains the importance of a healthy diet to pregnant women. Photo: WFP/Denita Baptista.

WFP is committed to working with the Government of Timor-Leste to fight malnutrition, especially for the most vulnerable people — most notably pregnant and nursing women and children aged five and below.

Timor-Leste has high levels of maternal and child mortality, and overcoming malnutrition is a crucial step towards ensuring women and children can live long and healthy lives.

In order to ensure that families can continue to eat Timor Vita, WFP, the Ministry of Health and the local private company Timor Global established a factory in 2010 to produce this supplement from locally available ingredients. In 2017, a total of 27,154 pregnant and nursing women from 6 municipalities received Timor Vita and incorporated it into their diets.

Story written by Denita Baptista.

Learn more about WFP’s work in Timor-Leste.

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