By Lorraine Anyango
Kisumu County needs more trained and resourced nutrition champion volunteers in each ward to adequately advocate for interventions to end malnutrition in the region.
Currently, the county has only 44 trained and certified nutrition champions with the lead being Mama County, Dorothy Nyong’o, all equipped with advocacy and communication skills to enable them to effectively operate and influence improvement in the indicators around health and nutrition status of the population in Kisumu County.
The champions have been enhancing the work carried out by some 35 nutritionists and eight Agri nutritionists employed by the county, with support from Advancing Nutrition which has been a USAID-funded project for the last two years, the project that Is now coming to a close.
The move to have more champions drawn from the community will increase community voices towards nutrition advocacy.
While documenting their achievements, the champions raised concerns over wards they have not yet reached as they are constrained and are mandated to only operate in their most immediate communities.
“As we document our success stories, we are also taking lessons we have learned from our engagement in the last two years, looking at what worked well and what did not, we are also having conversations and mapping way forward for nutrition championship.” Mr Rodgers Ochieng Kisumu County Advancing Nutrition Technical Coordinator said during a workshop.
The need for identification and training of more nutrition champions is embedded in County Strategies including County Agri-Nutrition Implementation Strategy 2023-2027 and the Food Systems Strategy 2023-2027.
The Kisumu County Nutrition Action Plan (CNAP) 2021 – 2023 also acknowledges the need for advocacy in the realization of nutrition outcomes.
There have been programs and interventions in place to curb malnutrition such as baby-friendly community initiatives, family MUAC, integrated management of acute malnutrition, and maternal infant and young child nutrition.
Despite this, malnutrition continues to soar in the county. For instance, wasting rates for children under five have increased from 0.9% in 2014 to 3% in 2022 (KDHS, 2022. A study conducted by Save the Children in 2021 at Ahero Ward showed that the stunting rate is at 40%, 4.5 times higher than the County prevalence rates. There is hence the need to use champions for improved nutrition advocacy.
From the workshop, it was agreed that champions play a vital role in influencing nutrition policy and practice, from securing political will to changing attitudes at the community level. However, there are some key gaps in our knowledge of how to identify, engage, support, and sustain a champion’s commitment to addressing nutrition challenges.
The nomination and subsequent training of champions have proven to be a key tactic for effective advocacy. However, there are some key gaps in engagement, supporting and sustaining nutrition champions’ commitment to addressing nutrition challenges. Therefore, the need to come up with clear terms of reference as the county seeks to work with and support champions.
The workshop was also graced with stakeholders who have been part of the Multi-Sectoral Nutrition deliberations in the last two years including former Chief Officer Agriculture and Livestock, Dr Paul Omanga, members of the Sun Business network as well as representatives from local civil societies.
During the forum the champions presented their work in the sub-counties, notable ones being advocating for the establishment of designated breastfeeding places in Kibuye and Ahero markets, advocating for the establishment of Breast-feeding rooms at Faith church in Kisumu West and Simba Opepo dispensaries, use of platforms like Community health systems, Chief Barazas, mother to mother support groups, women groups, funerals, ECDE centers, and 4K clubs.
The Champions have worked with local Civil Society Organizations at the Community level to advance nutrition matters. Some model farms have been set by Champions to act as centers of learning with some 6 Champions absorbed as part of the Community Health Strategy. The County supported the development of county-specific advocacy key messages for use by the champions with technical leadership from Maseno University and Jaramogi Oginga Odinga University.
The champions recommended that in the future, champions be identified using a structure that incorporates high-level political and popular champions including the media, County executive, and legislature while the technical ones be drawn from – Heads of Institutions that have a component of nutrition-specific and sensitive aspects such as the private sector, civil society organizations among others.
The champions will also come from the community, among them that have demonstrated innovative and sustainable actions towards the realization of nutrition-specific and sensitive issues such as farmers, church leaders, market leaders, and community health volunteers among others.