What We Are Doing

'Children of Uruzgan' saving lives in Afghanistan 19 Mar 2015

In the Uruzgan province of Afghanistan, Save the Children is delivering an ambitious four year health and education program. The ‘Children of Uruzgan’ program, funded by the Australia aid program, is run by Save the Children in partnership with local NGOs and the Government of Afghanistan. The goal is to enhance access, quality and use of health and education services for children and families in all districts. There is a specific focus on reaching remote and underserved communities and improving health outcomes for women and girls. Under the program, Save the Children also recruit and trains community midwives to ensure that women have the support they need.

Watch this 3-minutes video taking you through the life of community healthworkers in Uruzgan province and how important they are for the community.

Mohammad Habib’s three-year-old daughter Shukria was weak and sickly.

“I tried many things to help her,” he remembers. “I took her to the health worker and to the mullah but there was no solution and she was only getting worse.”

It was then that a health and nutrition team working for Save the Children’s ‘Children of Uruzgan’ program visited his village. The team screened all the children under five years of age and diagnosed Shukria with severe acute malnutrition.

Uruzgan is one of the most food insecure provinces in Afghanistan. It is one of the poorest, most conservative and insecure provinces in Afghanistan. Decades of conflict, lack of infrastructure and a severe shortage of skilled female health workers have all contributed to poor delivery of maternal and newborn care services.

Shukria was urgently sent to a Therapeutic Feeding Centre where she underwent one week of specialised emergency feeding to receive much-needed calories and vital nutrients. With her condition stabilised, Shukria returned to her family but continued to receive weekly check-ups for the next six weeks.

Malnutrition and food insecurity are pervasive in Uruzgan province. More than half of children 6-59 months are chronically undernourished, with almost one in four severely stunted as a result of malnutrition. The province has just 27 midwives to serve about 20,000 pregnant women and newborn babies at any given time.

Lack of access to food, however, is not the only cause of malnutrition. Poor feeding practices and infection, or a combination of the two, can also be major contributors. A survey by Save the Children found that while breastfeeding is widely practiced, 37 percent of mothers do not exclusively breastfeed in the first six months. This raises the risk of infections and nutrient deficiencies due to unsafe feeding practices, such as providing untreated water or food. Poor hygiene practices and unsafe water and sanitation facilities are also common.

After her treatment for malnutrition, Shukria and her mother attended one of the program’s 12-day Nutrition Education and Rehabilitation Sessions, which are run by trained female volunteers and community health workers. A key aim of these sessions is to show that locally available foods are sufficient for creating nutritious meals so that families can improve the quality of food that they eat.

This is certainly the case for Mohammad Habib and his family. “Our habits have changed at home. We cook nutritious food and make sure there’s a variety of things. In the past, we mostly had black tea and bread. Now we have eggs, peas, beans, tomato, rice and fruit.”

He says similar changes can be seen across the community. Nutrition promoter Mustafa Shirzai says this is a good example of the system at work with the ‘Children of Uruzgan’ program.

The evidence is also clear for Mohammad Habib, who says happily: “Shukria is four years old now and very strong—she’s grown bigger than her older brother and sister!”

Through improving access, quality and demand for nutrition and health promotion services, 'Children of Uruzgan is saving lives and reducing childhood malnutrition and micronutrient deficiencies that continue to hinder the development of more than one in two children in Uruzgan province.