Starting today, Sierra Leone will be hosting a ten-day regional training workshop on the treatment of severe acute malnutrition in children with participants from Liberia and Sierra Leone.
The workshop is considered significant as malnutrition is an underlying cause of child mortality in the West and Central Africa region, and Sierra Leone in particular.
The objective of the workshop is to train managers and staff of therapeutic feeding centres on the treatment of severe acute malnutrition in children.
It will also review the National Protocol for the treatment of malnutrition, and is expected to come up with a finalized national protocol that will be followed by all organizations engaged in therapeutic feeding services in Sierra Leone.
The malnutrition rates in Sierra Leone are among the highest in the world and account for 40% of the underlying causes of childhood mortality.
According to the minister of health and sanitation, Ms. Abator Thomas, child malnutrition is a major concern to the government.
“A sustained investment in nutrition in Sierra Leone would avoid thousands of deaths of children, and help them realize their right to survival and to opportunities for optimal development”, the minister emphasized.
In Sierra Leone, child malnutrition starts very early in life due to low rates of early and exclusive breastfeeding for infants aged 0–6 months and the introduction of non breast milk substitutes, especially water. This harmful practice exposes infants to pathogens and increases the risk of malnutrition and death.
At about 6 months of age, infants need to be fed adequate complementary foods. Locally available foods rich in energy, protein and micronutrients should be the basis of complementary feeding.
In Sierra Leone, 48% of 6- to 9-month-old infants are not fed any complementary foods and therefore lack nutrients essential for survival, growth and development. Sub-optimal feeding practices in early childhood explain the progressive increase of malnutrition levels in Sierra Leonean children in the first two years of life. By the age of 2 years most of the damage to children’s health, growth and development is done, and the chances of recovery are minimal.
Adequate nutrition is essential for the mental development of children. Evidence from different countries shows that malnutrition reduces children’s learning ability, school performance and retention rates.