Health extension worker Binti Mohammed counsels a woman, who is holding her infant, on best nutrition practices, at the health post in the village of Wolargi, in Gemechis, a woreda (district) of Oromia Region. Ms. Mohammed is holding a family health card. The cards chart the health of a family’s children and also contain educational information about best health practices for the entire family. Health extension workers are government-paid health workers, often working in their community of origin, who provide community-based health promotion and disease-prevention services. Today, the Government’s Heath Extension Programme deploys over 36,000 health extension workers who bring health services to the doorsteps of people, mostly in rural areas. Through the joint EU-UNICEF nutrition programme, which supports the Health Extension Programme, Ms. Mohammed explains, women bring their children to the health post on a monthly basis for growth-monitoring sessions and nutrition counselling, and the health workers also conduct door-to-door visits. “Before the nutrition programme started,” she said, “the community had a problem [with] a lack of awareness, and the community never provided locally available food to the children. … Due to the fact that the mothers are understanding the messages in the family health card, there is a big change. Previously when their children became under nourished, they used to take them to the traditional healers and wait until they become close to death, and they never took them to the health facility. … Currently … they started bringing malnourished children from each village to the health post. Previously, a pregnant mother never took proper care of herself. If she feeds her child and her husband, she considers it as if she has eaten herself, and she doesn’t eat. Now she takes a shower, takes a rest and then takes an extra meal a day, added [to] the usual daily intake. … There is a big change.
In July/August 2014, Ethiopia is nearing the end of a joint European Union (EU)-UNICEF national nutrition security programme that is building on government-led efforts to permanently reduce the rates of under-five child and maternal under-nutrition. The programme is part of a four-year (2011–2015) UNICEF/EU global initiative, with multiple regional, national and community partners. It focuses on four countries in sub-Saharan Africa and five in Asia but aims to influence nutrition-related policies throughout these regions. The Africa programme – Africa’s Nutrition Security Partnership (ANSP) – focuses on Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Mali and Uganda. It is intended to benefit directly 1 million children and 600,000 pregnant and lactating women – and to benefit indirectly 25 million children and 5.5 million pregnant or lactating women across the continent over the long term. At the macro level, the programme builds policy capacity for nutrition security; institutional capacity; data and knowledge sharing; and the scale-up of nutrition interventions. At the national and district levels, it promotes government and community ownership of development processes, including training, mapping and the mobilization of intra-community networks, such as women’s groups. And it utilizes a cross-sector approach, combining nutrition, health, water and sanitation, agriculture and social protection interventions to maximize the positive effects on child and maternal nutrition. The goal is generational change in both institutional and individual beliefs and actions on nutrition – contributing, as well, to the achievement of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2014/Nesbitt