06 July 2015

Good nutrition: Ensuring Mongolian children grow up strong

Narantungalag and Bilguun- Tuguldur getting nutrition advice 
©UNICEF/Mongolia/2015/Zoya Baduan

Bilguun-Tuguldur is an active one-year-old boy, who is squirming in his mother’s arms. He really wants to get down on the ground and play with his older siblings. When he is finally let down he runs after his sisters, giggling.

Bilguun-Tuguldur is Budragchaa and Narantungalag’s fifth child.  They have daughter Bolor-Erdene 13, son Bilguun-Tugs 10, daughters Bolor-Tsetseg seven and Bolorchimeg five. The family of seven live in a wood house in Murun, the capital city of Khuvsgul province, northern Mongolia. Budragchaa does seasonal work throughout the year and Narantungalag takes care of the children.

Narantungalag has been getting nutrition advice from the local health center as part of the UNICEF supported Infant and Young Child Feeding Programme. She has also received some micronutrient supplements for Bilguun-Tuguldur.

“The support has been great,” Narantungalag says. “I have learnt a lot about how to make sure my child is getting the best possible nutrition, how often to feed him and even how to prepare his food to make sure it is safe for him”.

She also learnt about micronutrients. “I thought the micronutrients would make him fat and I didn’t want to give them to him,” she continues. “But the team at the health center explained to me what they do – they don’t make him fat, they make him stronger. So when I understood this, I made sure I gave him the micronutrients.”

Narantungalag said with her older children she often fed them clear soups or what she had prepared for the older family members. “I didn’t know any better, so I just gave them what we ate,” she says. “I didn’t make food especially for them.”

“With Bilguun-Tuguldur, I got a lot of advice on nutrition and how to make sure my baby was being fed properly and receiving all the nutrients he needed,” she says. “I think this has helped his development.”

Narantungalag proudly explains that Bilguun-Tuguldur has developed very fast. “He is very active, able to walk and very alert – always watching his brothers and sisters,” she says. “Compared to my other children he walked a lot earlier - at ten months he could stand and walk if he held on to something. His growth is good and he doesn’t get as sick as the other children did”.

Giving nutrition advice

Dr Altantuya working hard to improve the nutrition of children in Khuvsgul
©UNICEF/Mongolia/2015/Zoya Baduan

Narantungalag received nutrition advice and information from the Enerel family health clinic, close to her home. Oyuntsetseg is a social worker at the Enerel family health clinic, and worked with Narantungalag to make sure Bilguun-Tuguldur was getting the right nutrition.

Oyuntsetseg explains that the clinic is very focused on improving child nutrition and they have a number of strategies to increase parents’ awareness of good nutrition and their ability to prepare nutritious meals.

The increased focus on child nutrition is part of UNICEF’s work with the Ministry of Health and the local health department to improve infant and young child nutrition. A part of this programme was a training for doctors, nurses and social workers to learn more about early childhood nutrition and how to share this knowledge effectively with parents.

Oyuntsetseg attended the training. “Following the training we are doing more face-to-face meetings with mothers, to share information and for them to exchange experiences and ideas with each other,” Oyuntsetseg says. “We even set up regular meeting with mothers and expectant mothers every Friday to share information”.

“Narantungalag was really interested in child nutrition and wanted to learn as much as she could,” she says. “But that is not unique. There is a lot of interest from parents about how to improve their child’s nutrition and a real effort to use that information, so any advice we give is take onboard and implemented. People are always asking for more training.”

And it is working. “The children are healthier because their nutrition has improved,” she says. “They are not getting sick as often and they are not getting the common diseases like the flu and colds as much”.

However the work is not done. Dr Altantuya the Nutrition Officer at the Khuvsgul Health Department says even with this training, parents’ knowledge on child nutrition needs to improve further.

“There has been improvements in the nutrition situation in Khuvsgul. Before the training Khuvsgul Aimag was considered at high risk or child mortality and disease in Mongolia,” Dr Altantuya says. “After the training, and because of the impact good nutrition has on child mortality and disease, this rating went down to average.”

“Despite this achievement, not every child is benefiting,” she says. “The improvements we are seeing in child nutrition are not consistent across the province.”

Reaching every children

UNICEF Mongolia’s Nutrition Officer Munkhjargal Luvsanjamba says ensuring every child in Mongolia has good nutrition is a priority for UNICEF.

“Good nutrition is essential for a child health and survival. Nutrition impacts on a child’s physical, mental and social development,” Munkhjargal says. “Nutrition supports other areas of a child’s development, for example education. A child who is well nourished have better attention spans and school attendance and is more likely to achieve academically, than a child who is malnourished.”

“Studies have shown that the impacts of malnutrition or bad nutrition are lifelong,” she explains. “Malnourished children have weaker immune systems increasing vulnerability to disease, and as adults are more likely to suffer from chronic disease. Poor nutrition can irreversibly affect a child’s physical and mental development.”

“That is why ensuring every child has good nutrition is so important,” Munkhjargal continues. “UNICEF has been working with the Ministry of Health and local health departments to improve child nutrition through the Infant and Young Child Feeding programme, the micronutrient supplementation programme and supporting the development of a national infant and young child feeding strategy and nutrition action plan. We believe that these efforts will help improve child nutrition across Mongolia, and ensure every child gets the best possible start in life”.

Whatever the outcome, Narantungalag is planning to continue giving Bilguun- Tuguldur nutritious food to ensure he continues to develop and grow. “But not just for the youngest,” she says. “I am making sure all my children have good nutrition so they can all grow up strong and healthy”.

Zetty Brake, Communications and External Relations Officer, UNICEF Mongolia

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