Malnutrition is common among young children in developing countries. Often it is caused by poor infant weaning practices. Karen Hoare describes a community-based infant weaning programme in The Gambia which adapted local foods to improve nutritional content. The project also resulted in the development of a simple but effective demonstration kit.
PIP: The Gambia in 1988 had an infant mortality rate of 16-17% with an estimated 25% of under five year old children malnourished as defined by the World Health Organization. The author describes a community-based infant weaning program introduced in 1990 to the West Kiang district town of Keneba as part of a wider health education initiative. Weaning foods, as traditionally prepared, tend to be low in energy and protein and high in bacterial content. Weaning food demonstrations were therefore introduced to develop health education acceptable to the recipients, to improve the nutritional status of infants, to make use of local foods, and to dispel food taboos. The program used village women as teachers in their home compounds, invited women with babies aged 4-9 months to attend the demonstrations, adapted traditional Gambian dishes to increase their protein and energy content and make them palatable to the infant, and used the demonstrations as a forum for health education. The project also resulted in the development of a simple, effective demonstration kit. The fortnightly demonstrations were popular and well-attended. The neighboring village of Kantong Kunda also became involved and started its own demonstrations. Dietary assessment forms revealed that milk and eggs were being used in infants' foods. Potentially conducted by any health worker, literate or illiterate, in any developing country, the demonstrations are a low-cost, low-technology way of reducing the prevalence of childhood malnutrition around the world.