A quantitative cross-sectional survey of psychosocial stimulation and counselling interventions at nutritional rehabilitation units in Southern Malawi
Inpatient treatment at nutritional rehabilitation units (NRUs) is needed for children who have severe acute malnutrition (SAM) and acute illness, loss of appetite, or severe oedema. World Health Organization guidelines state that nutritional counselling should be done with primary caregivers at NRUs. These recommendations also include psychosocial stimulation interventions to improve developmental outcomes in children with SAM. However, there is limited information about the delivery of these types of interventions for caregivers and children in NRU settings. The primary objective of this research was therefore to obtain data about NRU resources, activities, and protocols relevant to psychosocial stimulation and counselling interventions during inpatient treatment of children with SAM.
A cross-sectional survey was administered by interview at all 16 NRUs in seven districts in Southern Malawi. Participants were health workers, nurses, and nutritionists employed at the respective NRUs.
The response rate was 100% across NRUs. Half of participants said that psychosocial stimulation interventions are conducted at their respective NRUs, yet none of the NRUs have protocols for delivery of these interventions. Furthermore, 7/16 (44%) NRUs have no resources for psychosocial stimulation including play materials. Thirteen of 16 (81%) participants said that they feel this type of intervention is very important and 3/16 (19%) participants said that this somewhat important for children with SAM. All NRUs provide counselling to caregivers about breastfeeding and nutrition; 15/16 (94%) also give counselling about water, sanitation and hygiene.
Ultimately, results from this survey highlighted that there is a need to invest in comprehensive interventions to improve developmental and nutritional outcomes in these vulnerable children requiring admission to NRUs.