24 May 2016

Ensuring every child has good nutrition

2 year-old Azat eating bantan made by his mother
©UNICEF Mongolia/2016/Enkhzul Altangerel
A delicious smell runs through the house as lunch is ready. “Today I made bantan. Bantan is a Mongolian flour soup. It is very simple, made only from two ingredients, flour and meat. When it gets cooler, I’ll add micronutrient supplements to make it more nutritious” says 27-year old Juldiz. When she served her three children lunch, they ate quickly to see who finishes first. “I am happy when they eat well. Because it means that they will grow healthy” Juldiz smiles.

Juldiz is a young mother, who lives with her husband Khunbolat and three young sons in Nalaikh district, a peri-urban area of Ulaanbaatar. She is a stay-at-home mother, looking after her children. Khunbolat used to be a miner, but a year ago, he got into an accident and is no longer working at the mine. The family now only relies on the income Khunbolat earns through helping at construction works.

Juldiz with her three sons, Turar, 6, Azamat, 4, and Azat, 2.
©UNICEF Mongolia/2016/Enkhzul Altangerel
When Juldiz first had Turar, her first child, she had very little knowledge about child nutrition. “I started giving Turar solid food when he was only 3 months old. I didn’t know at the time the benefits of exclusive breastfeeding to a child’s health.” Juldiz explains. Then she received nutrition advice from the local family health center as part of UNICEF supported Infant and Young Child Feeding programme. She also received micronutrient supplements for her children as well.

Juldiz believes that all the nutrition information she received has really helped her children become healthier.

“My oldest son Turar is thinner than his younger brothers. I think it’s because I stopped breastfeeding him too early. But after the counseling sessions, I learned that a child needs to be exclusively breastfed for the first six months, in order for them to develop good immune system. So I did that with my other two children, and they are very healthy. They don’t catch flu or get sick often” she explains.

Juldiz also learned about cooking nutritious meals with simple ingredients and benefits of micronutrient supplements. “I used to make bantan with only meat and flour. Now I learnt that even adding simple things like eggs and carrots can make them lot more nourishing. Even if you don’t have much ingredients, you can use the micronutrient supplements, which is full of vitamins and minerals”.

Improving parents’ knowledge on nutrition

Juldiz is one of many parents who have received nutrition advice from local family health center. Dr. Davaasuren, head of “Achlalt Nalaikh” family clinic explains that the health center’s focus on nutrition programs has been successful.

“Last year, child morbidity and hospital admission in our khoroo* has fallen 50% thanks to multiple strategies to improve child health, one of which was increased focus on child nutrition. We gave nutrition counselling to more than 80% of the parents who have children ages 0-5. As a result, parents now understand that good nutrition is vital to children’s health.”

UNICEF has supported the health center by providing a series of trainings for health care workers to improve their knowledge and understanding of child nutrition. Following the training, counseling on maternal and child nutrition has become part of routine health services in Nalaikh.

Juldiz (in grey) believes that young mothers can help each other by sharing their knowledge with each other. She is now one of the volunteer mothers who helps health workers on nutrition counseling.
©UNICEF Mongolia/2016/Enkhzul Altangerel
Moreover, UNICEF supported the establishment of Nutrition Counselling Rooms in several health centers. These facilities proved a space for parents to receive nutrition counselling, and to learn how to cook micronutrient enriched food for young children.

“For mother with infants, we organized a cooking training to help them prepare nutritious meal for their children with easy to access ingredients. UNICEF has provided us with the cooking materials and kitchenware. Parents are very happy and motivated after training. The practice helps them learn better” explains Dr.Davaasuren.

From local level to nationwide implementation

Well-nourished children are able to grow and learn better, to participate in and contribute to their communities, and to be resilient in the face of disease.

“Mongolia has achieved a lot in improving nutrition of children. Underweight prevalence has dropped by 90% since 2000. However, deficiencies of vitamins and minerals as well as stunting remains key nutritional problems. Stunting level of children from wealthy households is 6%, while the figure is three times high at 19% for children from poor families” explains UNICEF Mongolia’s Nutrition officer Munkhjargal.

To address this gap, UNICEF’s nutrition program focuses on children under the age of five, and pregnant and lactating mothers of the poorest and hard to reach rural and peri-urban populations.  The program focuses on evidence-based interventions including support for breastfeeding, and micronutrient supplementation for mother and children. These investments in nutrition – particularly at the earliest years of life – can yield dramatic results for children, their families, and communities.

“Our interventions have been very effective. According to local health statistics, the prevalence of stunting declined by 1.6 % in our programme areas compared to 2014. Recognizing its effectiveness, the Ministry of Health and Sports adopted the interventions as key component within the National Maternal and Young Child Nutrition Strategy 2015–2020 for nationwide implementation” Ms. Munkhjargal added.


With the adoption of the strategy, more young mothers like Juldiz can now better ensure that their children have good nutrition for their health and development.

Author:

Enkhzul Altangerel, Digital Communications Consultant at UNICEF Mongolia

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