Touba Mbella, SENEGAL – At the Touba Mbella health post in central Senegal, Seynabou Ndiaye works diligently so every child in her village has the chance to grow up strong and healthy. Knowing that vitamin A is an important part of that, Seynabou has found creative solutions to ensure no child in her community misses out on their bi-annual doses.
Vitamin A supplementation has presented one of the biggest obstacles to Seynabou and other health workers in the country. Vitamin A is a critical micronutrient for children under five, boosting their immune systems, preventing blindness and increasing their chances of survival. The National Health Development Program has made vitamin A supplementation a priority and has been delivering it since the 1990s, originally through a door-to-door strategy that achieved near universal coverage and then through twice-yearly child survival days, when parents brought their children to health centres to receive a package of interventions.
In 2013, with support from Nutrition International, the Ministry of Health and Social Action gradually reintroduced vitamin A supplementation into the routine health system, making the program more cost-effective and sustainable. However, it became difficult to achieve the same level of coverage, especially among children aged 12-59 months.
Children must receive two doses of vitamin A every year, yet with no designated day for parents to take them to a health centre, the number of children receiving the requisite number of supplements declined. Health workers had to take on a much larger role in ensuring children continued to receive the supplements.
As the head nurse in Touba Mbella, Seynabou needed to find a way to ensure vitamin A supplementation was not disrupted for the children in her community.
Seynabou encouraged community health workers to add vitamin A supplementation to their routine health services when visiting households. Once a month she meets with the workers to collect information on children who received vitamin A, whose vaccination cards were checked, and who were checked on other health indicators. These are recorded in specialized registers, helping determine if there are children in the district who may have been missed.
In the department of Birkelane, where Touba Mbella sits, only 32 per cent of children receive vitamin A supplementation, the lowest rate in the region of Kaffrine, and one of the lowest in Senegal. Seynabou, however, has achieved near universal coverage at her health post, with 98 per cent of children receiving their doses.
Seynabou’s success is being held up as a model for other health workers in the country. The Direction de la Santé de la Mère et de l’Enfant, or the Mother and Child Health Directorate, has shared her work with other districts, hoping to achieve the same level of vitamin A coverage success throughout Senegal.
Since 1997, with support from the Government of Canada, Nutrition International has delivered more than 10 billion capsules of live-saving vitamin A to hundreds of millions of children in 55 countries. Nutrition International also works closely with other development partners and governments to support ministries of health to deliver vitamin A supplementation programs.