Laughter and learning about nutrition for mothers and infants in Vietnam’s highlands
By Josiah Marquis, an intern with HealthBridge Vietnam
With big trucks on winding roads, steep cliffs and rainy skies, and with cattle roaming around freely, the five-hour drive from Hanoi to Yen Chau is far from “straight forward”. Yen Chau is situated within the mountains of Son La province. This northwest region of Vietnam is home to people of many ethnic and cultural backgrounds. It is also one of the poorest provinces in the country.
The prevalence of malnutrition in this region is above the Vietnam national average, resulting in higher rates of stunting, wasting and underweight children. Data collected by HealthBridge in 2016 showed that less than half of children between the ages of 6 and 24 months receive a “minimum acceptable diet”. Women also remain susceptible to inadequate nutritional intake during and after pregnancy.
Personal beliefs regarding what constitutes a healthy diet are an important determinant of nutritional intake. Decisions are influenced by factors such as culture, family traditions, accessibility of foods and supplements and the advice provided by local health workers. For example, the recommendation for exclusive breastfeeding during the first six months may not be practised as a result of conflicting beliefs and information shared with the mother (read more in this blog post). Guidance and support provided by local health workers can be of critical importance in cases like this.
As an intern with HealthBridge Vietnam, I was given the opportunity to attend one of the three-day maternal and child nutrition training workshops held in Yen Chau. Village health workers and commune health staff participated in the workshop, which aims to build capacity and strengthen knowledge to improve infant and maternal health. This includes reminding health workers of key nutritional requirements for pregnant women and infants, and the best practices for prenatal and postnatal care.
Excitement and laughter
These workshops were highly engaging and included hands-on activities, such as role-playing and food demonstrations. Role-playing activities were met with excitement and laughter, including the scene where the “husband and wife” are visited by a village health worker for prenatal counselling. Everybody took an active role during the food demonstrations (or cooking classes) to practice preparing healthy, locally available and age-appropriate meals for infants over six months of age. Lots of taste-testing proved these meals to be both nutritious AND delicious!
These workshops provide local health workers an opportunity to enhance their understanding of nutritional needs for mothers and infants through fun and interactive activies, including the hands-on food demonstrations. The information shared and the experiences gained will help support the delivery of nutrition education at the community level. This is a fantastic example of how collaborative efforts are strengthening the capacity of local healthcare workers to provide support to women and children living in Son La.
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