Food for the Future: Nutrition Corners in Lesotho Treat Hungry Children Living With HIV
Lesotho faces the dual challenge of high prevalence of HIV/AIDS and under-nutrition. According to the 2009 Lesotho Demographic Health Survey 39 percent of children in that country who are younger than age five suffer from stunted growth; 13 percent are underweight; and 4 percent experience acute malnutrition.
The additional burden of HIV corresponds to an increase in the proportion of HIV-positive children admitted for severe malnutrition according to the 2007 Lesotho National Nutrition Survey. Evidence suggests that HIV prevalence is especially high (28.7 percent) among undernourished children in countries such as Lesotho with a high burden of malnutrition.
Sadly, many severely undernourished children die at home without care. Even when hospitalized, such children face high fatality rates. EGPAF-Lesotho’s nutrition program is designed to improve the growth, development, and overall health of HIV-positive and HIV-exposed children. One key strategy has been the integration of Nutrition Corners in maternal, neonatal, and child health services at hospitals and health centers in the districts of Mohale’s Hoek, Thaba Tseka, and Butha-Buthe.
These Nutrition Corners are now being scaled up across six districts in Lesotho with the objective of improving the nutritional status, growth, development, and health of infants and children living with or affected by HIV/AIDS.
Mothers and caregivers attend cooking demonstrations to learn about healthy eating and food preparation—using locally available foods, such as sorghum porridge, beans, peas, vegetables, and fruits. Nutrition Corners also help EGPAF identify HIV-exposed children who are still breastfeeding and HIV-positive children who are younger than 2, ensuring that they are receiving optimal care for HIV prevention, care, and treatment.
Monthly growth monitoring sessions identify undernourished children with low weight-for-age and weight-for-height. Mothers, caregivers, and children with unknown HIV statuses receive HIV counseling and testing services. Caregivers and parents whose children do not nutritionally improve in three consecutive visits are given one-on-one counseling—while the parents and caregivers who have seen swift improvement are invited to talk to the entire group about their positive experiences.
To encourage mothers and caretakers to engage with the Nutrition Corner activities, the Mohale’s Hoek Nutrition Corner holds graduation events for children who have been successfully rehabilitated within a 6-12 month period. The most recent graduation event was a celebration for the 13 children who had reached a normal weight for their age. Graduated children were given toys as tokens of appreciation to their mothers or caregivers—and to promote commitment and patience to others attending the Nutrition Corner.
The Nutrition Corner services comprise the larger effort by EGPAF and the Partnership for HIV-Free Survival (PHFS) program to reduce malnutrition in the region, especially in HIV-positive women and children. PHFS is funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the U.S. President’s Emergency Fund for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR).
Mapalesa Lemeke is a communications and advocacy officer for EGPAF-Lesotho.