In March, one of our health center partners, CSCOMSEKASI, reported 2 new malnutrition cases. That may not seem like many, but malnutrition is one of the leading causes of preventable deaths among children under age 5 in Mali.

One of the areas served by CSCOMSEKASI is Sibiribougou, a peri-urban community. The health center regularly sees some of the highest numbers of malnutrition cases in Commune IV. Sometimes, it has the highest number of cases in all of Bamako.

One of the children who became sick in March was Natenin, age 4. She and her younger sister, age 19 months, live with their parents in Sibiribougou and participate in our community health program.

Our team quickly got to work to organize a nutrition demonstration, a strategy used to help mothers learn to prepare foods which support their children’s development. Led by a nutritionist from the national health program, the session showed mothers how to prepare a porridge enriched with local ingredients, like carrots and pumpkin.

Nutritionist speaking to mothers
The nutritionist speaks to mothers about providing the nutrients children need to grow

The nutritionist shared that a major factor in malnutrition is repeatedly feeding children the same foods, which does not allow them to have a variety of nutrients. The porridge mothers learned to make is prepared with affordable local products that are available year-round; it provides balanced nutrition that ensures the good growth of children.

We invited 25 mothers with children under age 2 from our program to come to the health center for the demonstration. They were joined by our community health workers, the nutrition staff at the health center, and other mothers from Sibiribougou.

She began by sharing the recipe, explaining the ingredients, quantities, and the method :

2kg of sorghum
2kg of wheat
2kg of fonio
1kg of corn
1kg of rice
5kg of baobab flour
10 carrots
1 medium pumpkin
1 tablespoon of salt
10kg of sugar
1 small container of peanut oil

Wash each grain well separately
Mix them in the same container and grind them
Sift the mixed flour and set aside
Sift the baobab flour well
Mix the two flours and set aside
Wash the vegetables well
Boil and mash them

Then, she got to cooking, inviting mothers to help her at each step.

Boil 10 liters of water in a clean pot
When water is lukewarm, using a calabash and a ladle, slowly mix some water into the flour mixture until blended
Pour the solution back into the pot
Mix and stir until a homogeneous mixture is obtained
Then add the mash made of carrot and pumpkin to the porridge and simmer for about 5 minutes.
Then add the salt, sugar and a cup of oil
Let stand a few minutes before serving

Then came the best part – the tasting! All the children attending enjoyed the portions they were served, giving their full approval of this new dish. Mothers equally approved. They not only liked the taste, but appreciated that the ingredients were local and accessible. These nutrition demonstrations not only give mothers access to important health information, it also facilitates a permanent change to more nutritious meals in their households.

At the end of the session, Natenin’s mother addressed the group. She thanked the nutritionist for sharing this information and advice, and with it, vowed that her children would never know malnutrition again.

When mothers are supported with information and resources to keep their children healthy, the results are astounding. While a 2017 UNICEF study found the national rate of acute malnutrition in Mali rested at 10.7%, we had just 14 cases of acute malnutrition among the 2,350 children served by our community health program in 2020. Putting mothers at the heart of health interventions works. Strong community health systems react quickly to community needs by keeping women and mothers at the heart of local, accessible solutions.