At Jiffarong Health Centre, about 150 km from the capital city, Banjul, a toddler on his mother’s back catches my attention. 21-month-old Kabiru cannot wait to get home to devour a sachet of his monthly WFP supply of nutritious paste-like, baby friendly food filled with protein, iron and vitamins. It’s his breakfast after breastfeeding and he seems to love it!
Kabiru is one of 40,000 children in four of The Gambia’s six regions who are supported by WFP in the lean season — when stocks from the previous year’s harvest are virtually depleted and farming families are waiting for the next one. This is the most difficult time of year for one in two Gambians.
This is especially true for children like 20-month old Ousianou and his one-month old little sister Yacine at Medina Sancha, not far from Kabiru’s village in the lower River Region. Their mother Isatou Ceesay struggles to care for and feed them both, in addition to her other children.
With WFP’s care and support for both women and children, Isatou and her family will not only have enough food, the babies will be healthier. WFP gives monthly rations to children under 2, and pregnant and breastfeeding mothers thanks to funding from the European Union.
“The food that WFP is giving to my son has been very helpful. I can now safely breastfeed my baby without having to worry about what my boy will eat. His health has improved and that makes me happy,” explained Isatou.
High rates of malnutrition are a persistent challenge for the Gambia. The underlying factors include poor mother and newborn practices — for instance mothers not exclusively breastfeeding their child for the first six months — as well as poor access to healthcare, water and sanitation services.
WFP support also encourages mothers to regularly bring their children to outreach clinics where they get vaccinated, ensuring that children receive comprehensive protection for a healthy growth. The local health teams operate mobile clinics on the same day as the monthly food assistance is distributed to children. This makes life for the mothers much easier and saves them more time to grow food for their families.
This joint effort is bearing fruit in the fight against malnutrition. According to preliminary findings from this year’s malnutrition screening exercise, the number of children found to be malnourished has dropped.
Written by Isatou Njai