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Archives for Youth

Empowering Mothers to Save Lives

Leading global health soap brand Lifebuoy is harnessing the power of women to make handwashing with soap an everyday habit. Mothers, health providers and birth attendants can be influential advocates. In particular, motherhood is one of the most profound and lifechanging events in a woman’s life irrespective of culture or geography. Mothers hold the key to instilling positive handwashing behaviours in their homes and communities.

Children benefit from handwashing. Photo credit: Lifebuoy

Children benefit from handwashing. Photo credit: Lifebuoy

Lifebuoy joined forces with the U.S. Agency for International Development  and its Maternal and Child Health Integrated Program (MCHIP) to create a neonatal programme to raise awareness of the link between newborn survival and handwashing with soap.  Help a Child Reach 5 uses innovative videos to share the importance of handwashing.

Lifebuoy has an ambitious target of changing the handwashing behaviour of one billion people by 2015, thereby reducing preventable deaths of children under 5 from diseases like diarrhoea and pneumonia. It is this profound cause that helps us to get persuasive advocates- distinguished Indian actress Kajol supports the cause of handwashing with soap and Help a Child Reach 5. She is calling on people, governments, UN agencies and policymakers to scale up handwashing as the most cost effective intervention to save child lives.

Over 40% of under-five deaths occur within the first 28 days of a child’s life, the neonatal period. Simple, low-cost health interventions – such as handwashing with soap at key occasions- can reduce this figure by up to 70 per cent. Despite this, handwashing with soap is not universally practiced. We know that a simple solution- handwashing with soap- can make a drastic difference in stopping preventable newborn deaths. Lifebuoy is passionate about saving child lives and has the global scale to do something about it.

The program targets new mothers and birth attendants through antenatal clinics and health workers. We communicate the potential of handwashing with soap to reduce neonatal infections, but do not stop there. The Help a Child Reach 5 campaign makes a health appeal to the most powerful of all emotions- the maternal instinct. ‘Helping your child survive’ – is the sole message to initiate long lasting changes. Handwashing messages are delivered to generate awareness, but also get commitment to handwash, habitual routine practice of handwashing, and positive reinforcement for handwashing. It builds in the motivators of behaviour change among new mothers such as the desire to nurture and for social recognition. It empowers mothers to keep their babies protected, which is of ultimate emotional significance to mothers.

Public private partnerships are critical to deliver messages to new mothers. Health organizations and governments have on the ground expertise to ensure health workers deliver the messages to new mothers in a scalable and sustainable way. This programme draws on Lifebuoy’s marketing and consumer expertise as well as MCHIP’s ability to reach and scale up outreach to millions of new mothers achieve maximum impact.

Building healthy habits among mothers means changing behaviours and choices. Lifebuoy aims to be much more than just a soap and stand in women’s minds as something positive and meaningful for life. Once a new mother’s mindset is changed, habitual handwashing with soap will become a naturally ingrained behaviour. This can have a ripple effect to other new mothers and the entire community and will help fulfil Lifebuoy’s vision of bringing health and hygiene to 1 billion people.

Learn more about USAID’s work in water, sanitation, and hygiene.

For more information on the Help a Child Reach 5 campaign, please watch some of these videos: www.youtube.com/helpachildreach5

Smarter, Healthier, Wealthier – Helping Rural Cambodians Live Better Lives

HARVEST teaches efficient rice planting techniques that help Cambodian farmers increase their yields.  Photo: USAID/Michael Gebremedhin

HARVEST teaches efficient rice planting techniques that help Cambodian farmers increase their yields. Photo: USAID/Michael Gebremedhin

Soon after I arrived in Cambodia, I made a trip to see a few of the activities that USAID supports to improve the lives of rural Cambodians. Agriculture — especially rice — is of huge importance to Cambodia and I was able to see how our support is helping farmers become more successful by introducing new techniques. I also saw how our funds are improving Cambodian children’s education by strengthening school facilities and increasing their knowledge about nutrition.

Rebecca Black (second from right) learns how HARVEST is helping increase rural incomes by building skills like basket weaving. Photo: USAID/Michael Gebremedhin

Rebecca Black (second from right) learns how HARVEST is helping increase rural incomes by building skills like basket weaving. Photo: USAID/Michael Gebremedhin

Not far from Cambodia’s most famous landmark, Angkor Wat, farmers in Siem Reap and Kampong Thom provinces are learning about better, more efficient ways to raise fish and grow crops and vegetables. In addition to the training and supplies they receive through our food security program, USAID HARVEST, rural families are also eating better as a result of the nutritional information provided by HARVEST’s trainers. The bottom line is that their production is allowing farmers to earn more income and provide their families with a more diverse and nutritional food basket. Greg Beck, USAID’s Deputy Assistant Administrator for the Asia Bureau, saw this when he enjoyed personal interaction with one such farmer during his visit this year. Read about his reflections on his Cambodia visit here.

School kids in Kampong Thom learn about the importance of sanitation and have access to clean water at school through USAID’s support. Photo: USAID/Michael Gebremedhin

School kids in Kampong Thom learn about the importance of sanitation and have access to clean water at school through USAID’s support. Photo: USAID/Michael Gebremedhin

Nutrition is a very important priority for me and my team, as it continues to be one of Cambodia’s main development challenges. Studies show that too many Cambodians suffer from malnutrition. That’s why USAID’s program (Improving Basic Education in Cambodia) not only focuses on the classroom, but in the vegetable garden, too. In addition to providing computer labs, the project also teaches students about nutrition, water and sanitation by teaching them to install and maintain a vegetable garden. They also learn about the importance of protein and how important fish is to their protein requirements. These valuable nutritional resources will help school children eat right, grow strong and eventually join Cambodia’s growing workforce.

Communities in Cote d’Ivoire Benefit from USAID’s Investments

USAID is helping communities in rural Cote d’Ivoire develop economic resiliency. Through our partners SAVE the Children and AVSI, we are supporting several types of economic strengthening activities, all of which increase the productive resources available for families. Through this work, we target the families and caregivers of children orphaned or made vulnerable by HIV/AIDS.

As they gathered for their savings group meeting, group members met us with a traditional welcome. Andrea Halverson. Photo credit: Andrea Halverson, USAID

As they gathered for their savings group meeting, group members met us with a traditional welcome. Photo credit: Andrea Halverson, USAID

In the mountainous, western city of Man, near Cote d’Ivoire’s border with Liberia, we met women gathering for their regular community savings group meeting. This region was one of the hardest hit during Cote d’Ivoire’s civil unrest. With poverty rates increasing over the past decade, savings groups combat a common problem in developing countries: lack of access to credit. Through these self-selected groups, members (usually all-women) will share a small portion of their money at each bi-monthly meeting, and are eligible to take loans, with interest, from this shared pool. At the end of the group sharing cycle, the amount saved is paid out to the group members. The additional money is making a difference in their lives and the lives of their children. Almost every woman uses her savings for school fees and school uniforms for her children.

Children watch as the community members cook the Attiéké, the final step in its production. Photo credit: Andrea Halverson, USAID

Children watch as the community members cook the Attiéké, the final step in its production. Photo credit: Andrea Halverson, USAID

In addition to savings groups, we also visited a community who had received start-up capital to fund a small business activity, producing a local delicacy called attiéké. Similar to couscous, attiéké is a fermented Ivoiran side dish, highly sought after in the region. Through the donation of a mill and a creative cassava partnership, the women had what they needed to start their small business. They are now making and selling attiéké. With pride, women told us of their informal distribution channels that stretched all the way to Mali. These and other investments are helping shape the future of Cote d’Ivoire, and reducing the vulnerability of Ivorian children by using profits to ensure they can enroll in school.

USAID at UNGA 2013: Day Three

This year’s United Nations General Assembly focuses on the realization of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and inclusive development goals for persons with disabilities. 

UNGA Day Three: September 25, 2013

Recap of Wednesday’s Events:

  • The Global Business Coalition for Education, chaired by Gordon Brown, hosted a breakfast meeting to facilitated conversations between the business community and the education sector with the overall goal of more coordinated collaboration to improve education. Malala Yousafzai was in attendance as a special guest and together she and Administrator Shah encouraged the business community to invest in improving educational outcomes, with a particular emphasis on increasing equitable access to quality education, especially for girls.

    Administrator Shah with Malala Yousafzai; Alhaji Aliko Dangote, founder of the Dangote Group (far left); Christie Vilsack, USAID Senior Advisor for International Education; and Malala's father (far right). Photo credit: USAID

    Administrator Shah with Malala Yousafzai; Alhaji Aliko Dangote, founder of the Dangote Group (far left); Christie Vilsack, USAID Senior Advisor for International Education; and Malala’s father (far right) at the Global Business Coalition for Education event. Photo credit: USAID

  • Administrator Shah gave opening remarks at the Learning for All: Education Finance and Delivery event. This event was a follow-on to the high-level “Learning for All” Round One Ministerial Meetings that took place in April. Gordon Brown and the Global Partnership for Education invited the Heads of State, Education Ministers and Finance Ministers from a new set of six countries – Pakistan, Afghanistan, Myanmar, Timor-Leste, Somalia and Chad – to hold meetings on accelerating progress toward Education First. Of these, two of the focus countries (Afghanistan and Pakistan) were USAID “Room to Learn” countries. The meeting was attended by Ban Ki Moon, Jim Kim, Gordon Brown, Irina Bukova (Director-General of UNESCO), the President of South Africa, the President of Mozambique, and many others.
  • As a part of the Learning for All meetings, Administrator Shah participated in the “Learning for all Pakistan” meeting.  The Administrator expressed the USG’s continued interest in working with the Government of Pakistan and provincial governments to improve access to education and education quality. He also encouraged Pakistani government official to continue to show increased leadership and commitment to education. Malala Yousafzai also spoke and expressed the importance of education, particularly for girls, In Pakistan and worldwide. She encouraged the leaders in Pakistan to further increase spending on education and make secondary school compulsory.
  • Yesterday afternoon Administrator Shah gave closing remarks at the Responsible Investments in Myanmar forum hosted by the Asia Society and McKinsey Global Institute. The forum discussed the challenges and opportunities of Burma‘s transformation and ways to foster sustained growth and development through responsible investment. The discussion centered on two reports — Asia Society’s Sustaining Myanmar’s Transition: Ten Critical Challenges and the McKinsey Global Institute’s Myanmar’s Moment: Unique Opportunities, Major Challenges.

New Blogs:

Event’s Happening Today at UNGA (Thursday, September 26th):

  • No public events scheduled today

Learn more about this year’s United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) and its focus on the realization of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and inclusive development goals for persons with disabilities.

Follow @USAID and @RajShah for ongoing updates during the week and join the conversation on Twitter with the hashtags #UNGA and #UNGA2013.

USAID at UNGA 2013: Day Two

This year’s United Nations General Assembly focuses on the realization of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and inclusive development goals for persons with disabilities. 

UNGA Day Two: September 24, 2013

Highlight:

President Obama delivered an address to the United National General Assembly. A number of outlets are reporting on the President’s announcement of an additional $339 million in humanitarian assistance to Syria.

Announcements:

  • As a part of the Better than Cash Alliance anniversary event, USAID announced that it is on a path to incorporating language into all grants and contracts to accelerate the use of electronic and mobile payments into its programs across the world.

Recap of Tuesday’s Events:

  • Yesterday afternoon Administrator Shah and DFID’s Justine Greening hosted the “MDG Countdown 2013 – Women & Girls” event. The event highlighted the progress made against the MDGs and focused on the work needing to be done over the next 828 days. The event included Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Nigeria’s Minister of Finance, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of UN Women, Geena Davis, actress and UN Special Envoy for Women and Girls in the field of Technology and was moderated by NY Times reporter Nicholas Kristof.

Happening Today:

Learn more about this year’s United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) and its focus on the realization of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and inclusive development goals for persons with disabilities.

Follow @USAID and @RajShah for ongoing updates during the week and join the conversation on Twitter with the hashtags #UNGA and #UNGA2013.

Photo of the Week: Teaching Special Needs Students a Vocation

John Nyanjui and studentsThe USAID-funded Nutrition Kitchen Garden Program launched in October 2011 at Maria Magdalena Catholic Parish School in Thika, Kenya cares for the special needs of mentally handicapped children. The program better equips them with vocational skills, like gardening. Recent graduate John Nyanjui, far left, now works with his former agronomy teacher Josphat Avunga to provide this vocational training to other students. Photo is from Natasha Murigu, USAID.

Learn more about this year’s United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) and its focus on the realization of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and inclusive development goals for persons with disabilities.

Follow @USAID and @RajShah for ongoing updates during the week and join the conversation on Twitter with the hashtags #UNGA and #UNGA2013.

Realizing the Health Goals of the Panama Declaration

This blog is part of a series to coincide with A Promise Renewed in the Americas: ”Reducing Inequalities in Reproductive, Maternal and Child Health Summit,“ that was held during September 10-12 in Panama.

The Promise Renewed for the Americas conference, just held in Panama City September 10-12, was attended by over 280 people representing governments, NGOs, faith organizations, multi- and bi-lateral organizations and civil society from throughout Latin America and Caribbean (LAC) region. The conference was a call to action to address persisting inequalities in maternal and child health in the region. The Declaration of Panama signed on the first day expressed the commitment of 26 governments  and many organizations to heed that call. The conference concluded with a provisional framework for reducing health inequities for women, children and youth in the LAC region. Now that I’ve had a week to reflect on the event, I’d like to share some thoughts with the broader global health community and so many others who contribute to furthering health in LAC, focusing on: “why this conference was so important to have in the first place,” “why now?”  and “what’s ahead?”

A Promise RenewedWhy convene this meeting in the first place? In 2015, most LAC countries will meet Millennium Development Goal (MDG) 4 (child health), and many will meet MDG 5 (maternal health.) However, it is certainly too early to declare victory in maternal and child health in LAC. Some countries will not meet either MDG 4 or 5, and Haiti’s indicators will fall considerably short of its goals. Moreover, averaged, national-level statistics mask major inequalities in maternal and child health in almost all countries in the region. And, the groups with much-worse-than-average health outcomes – most notably in maternal and neonatal deaths – are LAC’s most vulnerable and marginalized populations. Often these are also people whose voice is not heard in policy-making. Further, as outlined in an article for the Journal de  Perinatología y Reproduccion Humana, the pace of progress in reducing preventable maternal, child, and newborn deaths has slowed considerably throughout the region. At the same time, the investment of international donors in the health sector in LAC has declined markedly over the last two decades. So, the capacity and resources of the region itself will have to be better focused to reduce its major “equity gaps” in maternal and child health. In this context, the Panama conference was initiated by USAID’s Bureau for Latin America and the Caribbean, and sponsored by a consortium of donor agencies, USAID, PAHO/WHO, UNICEF, UNFPA, UNAIDS, the Inter-American Development Bank, and the World Bank, to catalyze a more concerted regional effort to address those gaps.

So, why now? In addition to the convergence of the region-specific factors just mentioned, the timing of the Panama conference was important in a global context because it forged a link between the Latin America and Caribbean region and the new global movement “A Promise Renewed” (APR). That movement was launched in June 2012 at the Child Survival Call to Action event in Washington, D.C. that was hosted by the governments of Ethiopia, India, and the United States, in collaboration with UNICEF. APR aims to re-energize those working on maternal and child health world-wide, and increase attention and investments toward the goal of ending preventable maternal and child deaths within the next generation – by 2035. Several follow-up conferences in Africa and Asia have helped sub-regions and individual countries to begin development of detailed roadmaps to reach this goal. For the LAC region, reaching the global goal will require a fundamental commitment to bridging equity gaps. Going forward, we expect that LAC’s active participation in the global APR platform will lead to accelerated learning and better metrics for gauging progress.

What’s ahead? A major consensus emerging from the conference was that the true locus of control for closing these equity gaps lies in the countries of the region –their governments, civil society, academies, churches, and other institutions. The appropriate role for donor agencies is supportive, not primary, in setting goals, timelines, the route to reach them, and the metrics to measure them. Many conference participants called for a regional mechanism to help facilitate collaboration, information exchange, south-to-south sharing, and access to technical expertise to accelerate the reduction of inequities.

Following are some other key decisions and next steps that came out of the conference:

  • Conferees identified key principles to guide efforts to close equity gaps, among them: use of cross-sectoral approaches for multi-sectoral problems; a focus on marginalized populations (rather than expecting benefits to trickle-down); use of multicultural approaches; and promotion of gender awareness.
  • Conferees supported the establishment of a regional network dedicated to addressing health equity gaps, which would be open to countries, civil society, private sector, and international agencies.
  • Representatives from several countries indicated that they would initiate national, and potentially sub-national, meetings to address maternal, child and adolescent health inequities in their own countries.
  • The donor consortium agreed to continue support for the A Promise Renewed for the Americas website, to serve as a platform for virtual discussion and planning, an information repository, and mechanism for technical interchange.
  • Conferees provided ideas orally and in writing for a regional framework aimed at supporting country progress on reducing inequities. This framework, along with a limited organizational structure, will continue to be developed in the coming months, with modest funding from the seven-agency donor consortium.
  • Setting of region-wide goals for reduction of health inequities was deferred, given the diversity of circumstances and the lack of standardized data across the region that could help inform policies and decision making. There was also general agreement that imposing regional, uniform, health equity reporting requirements on countries would not be feasible or desirable at this point. However, it was widely agreed that gauging progress in reducing health inequities is essential for accountability. That will require countries to disaggregate their health data to allow analysis by geographic, economic, ethnic, and gender variables, over time.
  • Conferees also stressed the importance of LAC participation in shaping the post-MDG 2015 health development agenda.

For the LAC region, some of the most difficult challenges in maternal, child, and adolescent health still lie ahead, because they require reaching those who are hardest to reach, but the Panama conference showed that solidarity and commitment in the region are strong. The LAC region has a history of success in maternal and child health and can draw from the extensive knowledge and expertise already in the region. The Panama conference catalyzed an ambitious process that will be ongoing until, as one speaker observed, “we meet to celebrate ‘A Promise Fulfilled.’”

Related blog posts:

Neonatal Alliance Locks in on Largest Contributor to Under-5 Death in Latin America and the Caribbean

This blog is part of a series to coincide with A Promise Renewed in the Americas: ”Reducing Inequalities in Reproductive, Maternal and Child Health Summit“ during September 10-12 in Panama.

Each year, over 121,000 babies in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) will die during their first month of life. Nearly a quarter of these neonatal deaths are due to prematurity and low birth weight; and these deaths are more likely to happen if the baby is born to a mother who is poor, uneducated, or lives in a rural area.

To prevent neonatal deaths and advance neonatal health in general, many of the LAC region’s ministries of health, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), several United Nations (UN) agencies, non-governmental organizations, and professional associations (pediatric, obstetrics-gynecology, midwifery, and nursing), have formed a partnership in 2005 called the LAC Neonatal Alliance.

Mother and child. Photo credit: MCHIP

Mother and child. Photo credit: MCHIP

This regional Alliance provides an ongoing platform for active engagement in neonatal issues at the regional and national levels. It champions key initiatives such as the promotion of the Neonatal Integrated Management for Childhood Illness (IMCI) strategy, development of “Trainer of Trainers” workshops for neonatal resuscitation using the Helping Babies Breathe (HBB) protocol, implementation of Kangaroo Mother Care, and creation of communities of practice for  the exchange of experience and dissemination of evidence-based practices. The Alliance model allows for quick action to address priority issues because of its organizational character: transparent and trusting collaboration, plus tightly defined and monitored goals that are supported by a shared annual work plan and budget. This structure has allowed the Alliance to make a significant impact on neonatal health in the LAC region.

An important example of the Alliance’s work involves the implementation of a low-technology, cost-efficient technique to save premature babies. Kangaroo Mother Care (KMC), which involves constant skin-to-skin contact between the newborn and his or her mother (or father), was developed in 1982 in Colombia in response to a lack of incubators. This simple intervention helps newborns regulate their temperature and other physiological processes – but its benefits have not been well understood until recently.  The intervention has been shown to reduce newborn mortality and morbidity in premature and low birth weight infants by approximately 50 percent more than traditional care. A recent USAID-funded study in Nicaragua found that use of KMC reduced hospital stays for newborns by four days, which results in less potential for hospital-acquired infections and allows the family to resume their normal life, including infant-related responsibilities, sooner, while saving an average of almost $400 per infant.

The Alliance has brought teams from 10 LAC countries to Colombia for training in KMC, and eight of these teams instituted training programs in their home countries to further disseminate KMC. Through this work, the Alliance is potentially reaching over 20,000 mothers and their infants per year.

With neonatal deaths remaining a major challenge in Latin America and the Caribbean, especially among disadvantaged groups, the Alliance will keep this issue in the forefront and continue to push for universal adoption of life-saving interventions in the region.

For detailed information on the LAC Newborn Alliance and Kangaroo Mother Care visit the following websites: Kangaroo Foundation, Maternal and Child Health Integrated Program, and the Newborn Alliance.

Follow @USAID and @USAIDGH from September 10-12 for live tweets and Facebook content from the conference. Follow the hashtag: #PromiseRenewed or #PromesaRenovada.

Liberia: “When We Learn to Read, We Can Read to Learn!”

This originally appeared on the Global Partnership for Education Blog

Newton G. Teeweh is one of Liberia’s deeply committed teachers. He is proud to be doing the critical but unglamorous work of teaching the nation’s children how to read so they can read to learn. He once had been a struggling reader himself, so it wasn’t always obvious that he would become a teacher.

Student and teacher in Liberia. Photo credit: GPE

Student and teacher in Liberia. Photo credit: GPE

In Maryland, Newton’s home county on Liberia’s eastern border with Côte d’Ivoire, teachers and students alike frequently struggle with reading English or using English for classroom instruction. When Newton crossed the border into Côte d’Ivoire in 1991 to escape the civil conflict in his home country, it was as a senior in high school who still felt uncomfortable reading.

He started working as a public school teacher when he returned to Liberia a year later, and throughout his 18 years in the profession the discomfort with reading did not abate. “I still found it difficult to read an article fluently until I moved to the Reading Program of USAID’s Liberia Teacher Training Program (LTTP) in 2011,” he said. “That’s when I began to see a great change.”

Teachers need training

Newton now trains teachers, principals and reading coaches around the country in reading pedagogy – the same training that transformed him. Many of them – like Newton himself – became schoolteachers immediately upon graduating from high school without having ever received formal pedagogical training of any kind.

With his improved reading skills, Newton has been able to go back to university part-time. He is now working toward a Bachelor’s degree in education at a teacher’s college in Monrovia, Liberia’s capital. “Reading has helped me to quickly and accurately gather information. It has given me self-confidence. When I’m sitting in an exam, I can feel relaxed because I don’t depend on someone else to help me understand what I’m reading.”

While Newton already serves as a role model for the teachers he trains, he has set his ambitions even higher. “I am interested in becoming a policymaker,” he says. “What we have started in Liberia must continue. We need to have people in relevant positions that will continue the focus on reading, even if donors leave Liberia.”

Liberia’s first national reading campaign

Newton is just one of many champions of Liberia’s first national reading campaign, which kicked off this last weekend. The campaign will help raising awareness across all groups of society about the importance of reading. President Johnson Sirleaf and other prominent figures have pledged their support to the campaign’s central message: When we Learn to Read, we can then Read to Learn. The campaign’s motto – Reading Brightens Your Life – has held true in Newton’s experience and in the experiences of many politicians and government officials.

Spearheaded by the Ministry of Education and USAID’s Liberia Teacher Training Program (LTTP), the campaign combines efforts of several ministries, international and local civil society organizations and corporations. The President declared September 9 – 14 to be National Reading Week, with the aim of inspiring schools and communities to come together to improve literacy among students of all ages. Following an opening week in Monrovia with reading competitions, book fairs, and read-ins, activities will spread throughout the country. Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) will then hold their own events in various communities reinforcing the campaign’s messages and momentum.

Reading is the basis for future learning

Followers of this blog probably already know that reading is a critical skill and the foundation for future learning. Children who do not learn how to read in the early grades face an increasingly uphill battle in later years as more and more of the material to be learned is presented in written form. Difficulty with reading makes students more likely to drop out of school, which contributes to illiteracy. This in turn imposes substantial economic costs at the national level. The good news is that the situation can be changed. Countries that have found a way to boost literacy rates by 20-30% have seen simultaneous increases in GDP of 8-16%. That’s not peanuts – and it is one of the reason why Liberia’s President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and her Ministry of Education are so committed to the goal of improving reading skills in Liberia.

GPE’s Education For All Blog will follow Liberia’s National Reading Campaign with a series of guest posts highlighting the work underway to improve reading in the country. Teachers who have recently been trained explain how a new, intense focus on reading has transformed their student’s classroom performance. Parents who are themselves preliterate will discuss how learning simple ways to support their children’s reading development has changed how they engage with schools and the larger education system. Students whose self-confidence and love of learning has blossomed along with their reading skills will describe some of the aspirations that are coming steadily closer to realization.

Stay tuned for more stories coming out of Liberia’s National Reading Campaign and hear how reading brightens the lives of so many Liberians.

Learn more about USAID’s education programs. 

Optifood: A New Tool to Improve Diets and Prevent Child Malnutrition in Guatemala

This blog is part of a series to coincide with A Promise Renewed in the Americas: ”Reducing Inequalities in Reproductive, Maternal and Child Health Summit“ during September 10-12 in Panama.

What does it REALLY take to ensure young children get the proper nutrition to grow strong and healthy? This is an especially important question in poor rural communities in Guatemala, where about half of the children under five years of age are stunted (too short for their age—a sign of long-term deficits in the quantity and/or quality of food, including the right vitamins and minerals).  In some parts of western Guatemala, more than eight in ten young children are stunted.

Woman feeds her child. Photo credit: INCAP

Woman nourishes her child. Photo credit: INCAP

Now there’s a new tool to help answer the question:  Optifood is a computer software program, developed by the World Health Organization (WHO) in collaboration with the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, Food and Nutrition Technical Assistance III Project (FANTA), and Blue Infinity, that provides scientific evidence on how to best improve children’s diets at the lowest possible cost using locally available foods. Optifood identifies nutrient gaps and suggests food combinations the local diet can fill—or come as close to filling. It also helps identify local foods’ limits in meeting nutrient needs and test strategies for filling remaining nutrient gaps, such as using fortified foods or micronutrient powders that mothers mix into infant or young children’s porridge.

The Government of Guatemala is fighting stunting through its Zero Hunger Initiative, which aims to reduce stunting by 10 percent by 2015 and 24 percent by 2022 through nutrition, health, agriculture, and social safety net programs. The U.S. Government and USAID are supporting these efforts through Feed the Future and Global Health Initiatives focused on the Western Highlands. USAID/Guatemala asked the USAID-funded FANTA/FHI 360 to help find strategies to improve the nutritional quality of children’s diets in the region. The challenge was to develop realistic and affordable diets for children that both meet their needs and are firmly based on scientific evidence. FANTA worked with its local partner, the Institute of Nutrition of Central America and Panama (INCAP), to collect the diet data needed for Optifood from communities in two departments of the Western Highlands, Huehuetenango and Quiché. FANTA then used Optifood to analyze the information.

The Optifood analysis found that a combination of locally available foods including tortillas, potatoes, beans, eggs, green leafy vegetables, and a fortified cereal known as Incaparina, along with mother’s breast milk, could satisfy children’s nutrient needs, except for two nutrients required for children 6-8 months—iron and zinc. Optifood results showed that adding a micronutrient powder, known locally as Chispitas, would help make sure these very young children get enough iron and zinc.  It is important to note that the Guatemalan Ministry of Health already provides Chispitas in some areas, but it does not yet reach all parts of the country where it is needed.

Woman tends to crops. Photo credit: INCAP

Woman tends to crops. Photo credit: INCAP

FANTA then found out how much this diet would cost and whether families in the Western Highlands could afford it. One feature of Optifood is it provides cost information and can identify the lowest-cost diet that meets or comes close to meeting nutrient needs. Optifood found that it would cost about 25 to 50 U.S. cents a day to give this improved diet to a child 6–23 months old in Guatemala. At first, this may not seem like much money, but for the 51 percent of the population in the Western Highlands who earn less than US$3.15 a day, it amounts to 8 percent to 15 percent of their daily earnings.

Next steps in the process include testing the diet to see whether mothers can really feed it to their young children. We’ll be asking questions like, “Do mothers have any difficulties? Is cost really a problem? Are the recommendations hard to understand or follow? Do children like the combinations of food?”

Once the diet is found to be practical, feasible, and affordable, FANTA will work with partners to develop a strategy and plan to promote the recommended foods in the right combination, quantity, and frequency to improve children’s diet intake as well as promote the use of Chispitas to help meet iron and zinc needs.

FANTA is also working with the Government of Guatemala, USAID, development partners, and the private sector to make fortified foods for young children even better and test their nutrient levels with Optifood. FANTA is collaborating with the Guatemalan Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock to develop extension messages and materials to support production of the nutritious foods identified by Optifood, disseminate messages and improve practices through USAID-funded Feed the Future demonstration sites, with support from INCAP. In collaboration with the Ministry of Health, FANTA will also help health workers (through an e-learning program) and community health workers learn about and promote the Optifood diet, and as needed, FANTA will provide additional ongoing training and technical expertise.

Optifood, which will soon be available for free download on the WHO website, is a truly powerful tool that can strengthen Guatemala’s ability to help its children thrive and reach their full potential.

Follow @USAID and @USAIDGH from September 10-12 for live tweets and Facebook content from the conference. Follow the hashtag: #PromiseRenewed or #PromesaRenovada.

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