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In February, members of parliament from the United Kingdom saw first-hand the impact of Nutrition International’s programming in Kenya. Two members of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Nutrition and Growth – Lord Ray Collins of Highbury, a member of the House of Lords and the shadow minister for International Development, and Baroness Zahida Manzoor, a conservative member of the House of Lords – traveled to the country to meet with organizations and people benefitting from nutrition programs there.

The visit, organized by RESULTS UK, included meetings with stakeholders in Nairobi and field visits to see projects being implemented by Nutrition International and UNICEF. On the first day the MPs met with key nutrition partners, including UNICEF Kenya, Nutrition International, DFID Kenya, Scaling Up Nutrition and Christian Aid.

In the meeting, Nutritional International Kenya’s Country Director Martha Nyagaya called for the prioritization of nutrition financing and advocacy in order to tackle malnutrition in the country.

“According to the 2019 Cost of Hunger in Africa study, undernutrition costs Kenya’s economy Ksh373.9b, which is 6.9% of the Gross Domestic Product,” said Ms. Nyagaya. “Nutrition International is therefore focusing on multi-sectoral nutrition interventions especially at county level.”

The next day, the MPs traveled to Murang’a County where they met with Mr. Joseph Mbai, a member of the County Executive Committee.

“The county government is committed in terms of nutrition,” said Mr. Mbai. “We have worked closely with Nutrition International, especially in vitamin A supplementation and the development of the County Nutrition Action Plan.”

Kangaroo Mother Care

The first site visit was to the maternal and child health clinic at the Maragua sub-county hospital. Nutrition International established the kangaroo mother care (KMC) mother support group there in August 2019, targeting 15 mothers. They meet monthly to discuss the benefits of KMC and share lessons learned with other mothers in the hospital’s newborn unit who have low birthweight children.

Mercy Muiruri, a member of the support group who practiced KMC on her son Francis explained the benefits to the MPs.

“I have witnessed a good growth of my last-born child, Francis,” said Mercy. “I gave birth to him when my pregnancy was at 34 weeks. He was very tiny and weighed only 1400 grams. He was immediately put in the incubator. After 10 days, he was removed from the incubator with a weight of 1700 grams. Then a nurse introduced me to kangaroo mother care. After one week of practicing KMC in the hospital, we were discharged with Francis weighing 1950 grams. We were given weekly follow-up visits to the hospital where the nurses monitored his progress until he reached 3200 grams. Thereafter, we were given monthly follow-up visits. My husband and I practiced KMC for two months.”

Mother to Mother Support Group

The MPs also met with members of the Gichengo Mother to Mother Support Group, comprised of 20 women between the ages of 19 and 30. They meet every Monday at a member’s home to discuss Anzilisha or Right Start, which focuses on healthy habits from pregnancy until a child’s second birthday. The lead mother guides the conversation, using messages from the Mama Anzilisha booklet.

Members of the group explained to the MPs the benefits of their weekly meetings, including learning the importance of taking iron and folic acid supplements and eating iron-rich foods during pregnancy. They also noted that they had learned how to feed young children and the importance of proper hygiene.

Kobil Father Support Group

Later in the afternoon, the MPs met members of the Kobil Father Support Group that was established in January 2020. The group has 39 members and meets at the Mukereniu dispensary. Ever Thursday, the lead father leads the group through a discussion on healthy habits in the first 1,000 days, using the Baby Anzilisha booklet as a guide.

“After attending Anzilisha meetings, I realized that I have a role to play as a parent and I must assist my wife,” Peter, the team leader, told the visitors. “I now know that I need to accompany my wife to clinics.”

Another member of the group explained the importance of exclusive breastfeeding.

“I have learned that a child should not be given anything, including water, before six months. He or she feed on breast milk alone and eat food at six months.”

Vitamin A Supplementation in School

The final visit was to Maragua Primary School, which is linked to the Maragua sub-county hospital. The MPs met with students and teachers to understand their roles in vitamin A supplementation (VAS). Through the Murang’a VAS Optimization Project, 413 Early Childhood Development Education (ECDE) teachers have been trained on the importance of vitamin A. They then pass this knowledge on to students and their parents. The teachers also work closely with health workers to ensure that all children registered in their ECDE centres get twice-yearly doses of vitamin A.

The VAS optimization project began in March 2018 and is being implemented in the sub-counties of Kandara and Murang’a South. The pilot project provides technical support in planning and optimizing delivery of VAS through multiple channels, including health facilities, community health units and early childhood development centres.

Since the project began, more than 2,000 caregivers have learned about the importance of vitamin A. VAS coverage for children 6 to 11 months improved from 27.7% in 2017 to 66.4% in 2018 and for children under five, coverage increased from 30% to 72%. Murang’a county has set a target of 80% coverage for all children under five.

After completing their tour, Baroness Manzoor and Lord Collins met again with key stakeholders, including DFID Kenya, UNICEF Kenya, Nutrition International, Kenya’s Head of Nutrition and Dietetics Veronica Kirogo, Kenya’s Scaling Up Nutrition Focal Point Gladys Mguambi, and representatives from the National Treasury.

“You are doing wonderful work,” Baroness Manzoor told the group. “We have seen and heard the impact of nutrition interventions in the communities.”

Following the field visits and meetings, Lord Collins called for increased outreach activities and support for community health workers.

“We have seen the integration of nutrition from the national to county level,” said Lord Collins. “We need to see greater strategic priorities right at the start of programs and translation of the same from national to counties, with clear indicators.”