Changes in complementary feeding practices and nutrition status in returnee children aged 6-23 months in northern Uganda
Objectives: Evaluate changes in underweight and wasting, feeding patterns, water use, sanitation, immunisation, disease episodes, deworming and vitamin A supplementation in children aged 6-23 months in returnee villages benefiting from a community-based supplementary feeding programme in northern Uganda. Community perceptions on the causes and effects of childhood malnutrition, the use of community volunteers, the involvement of the men in the promotion of child nutrition and changes in childhood nutrition and feeding practices were also assessed.
Design: Programme impact evaluation.
Setting: The study was carried out in the districts of Pader and Agago in northern Uganda.
Subjects: Children aged 6-23 months (207), and adult men and women.
Outcome measures: Weight and mid-upper-arm circumference were used to determine underweight and wasting, respectively. Immunisation, deworming and vitamin A supplementation status was assessed. Oedema and morbidity or disease episodes were also determined. Community perceptions on the quality, utilisation and types of supplementary feeding services offered, understanding of malnutrition and the involvement of the men were also assessed. Finally, the impact of mother care groups and village health teams, as well as changes in child nutrition status and feeding, were assessed.
Results: The prevalence of wasting (11.1%) and underweight (22.7%) is higher than the baseline of 11% and 17.8%, respectively. Eighty-six per cent of the children were still breastfeeding. A high percentage (79.2%) of children were exclusively breastfed. The largest proportion of children (42.3%) ate two times a day, and 55.6% of them consumed food from their own plates. Over three quarters (75.8%) and 93.7% of the children had received measles and diphtheria, pertussis and tuberculosis vaccines (DPT3), respectively. Ninety-five per cent and 66.7% had received vitamin A supplements and deworming tablets, respectively. The water usage rate was 19.2 l/person/day. Sixty per cent of the households had their own pit latrines. The programme was perceived to have improved the nutritional knowledge and feeding practices of the community. The use of volunteer mothers for nutrition education encouraged other community members to take childhood nutrition seriously.
Conclusion: Childhood wasting and underweight rates have remained high in the two districts, despite an improvement in nutrition-related knowledge and practices. Advances in complementary feeding and related sanitation practices were recorded. An increase in vitamin A supplementation, with reductions in DPT3 immunisation and deworming were observed at the end of this community-based supplementary feeding programme. Community volunteers, through the provision of education and the identification of malnourished children, were pivotal in changing nutrition knowledge and the attitudes of community members. The support of volunteers with savings, loans and seeds were important incentives when promoting nutrition. Given the reliance of the volunteers on incentives from the project, we are sceptical as to whether nutrition education and the screening of acutely malnourished children will continue in these communities post the project.
Keywords: complementary feeding, nutritional status, behaviour, practices, children, 6-23 months