EU supports Gambia fight against malnutrition through cash transfer

Sarjo Camara-Singateh

National Nutrition Agency (NaNA), under the auspices of ministry of health and social welfare, has secured a funding from the European Union through the United Nations Children’s fund (UNICEF) for the agency and partners to implement support to lactating mothers and children in the rural areas. The objective of the project which targets 11,700 beneficiaries is to eradicate malnutrition and hunger.

This was revealed at a training of trainers session held at the NaNA office along Bertiling Hardling Highway yesterday, 15th February 2017.

According to officials, the first phase of the project starts with training of the management staff to acquaint themselves with the project designed before it will start rolling.

UNICEF Representative to the Gambia, Ms. Sara Beysolow Nyanti said the collaboration is to ensure that children are provided with increase access to their rights which is a testimony of the fact that government has privatised the issues of children and special as it relates to nutritional status and their wellbeing.

She said the project is in recognition of the situation of children as it relates to their nutrition status as the situation of their nutritional status has not been changing over the years.

“You find that were you have had almost 17% of acute malnutrition in the country, stunting 25% national average, meaning one (1) in every four (4) children are stunted in the Gambia; in the regions like Central River Region and Upper River Region, you have 35% and 32% respectively, I think that’s worrisome,” reveals the UNICEF Rep.

The UNICEF REP said households in rural areas are headed by subsistence farmers or by unskilled labourers where you have a poverty rate of almost 80% which are factors and situations cutting across poverty and malnutrition.

“We found the need for Gambia to have a social protection project like this in the Gambia to address both issues at the same time. So, the cash transfer of about Six hundred dalasi (D600) per month to households that have lactating mothers and children under year aged, we know that this will go a far way in impacting on vulnerable households and marginalised children,” said Ms. Beysolow Nyanti.

She noted that the Gambia has suffered significant shocks over the years resulting in situations of reduced yields due to climate change and other issues around agriculture such as the destruction of rice fields, malnutrition, etc.

The UNICEF Rep said the recent political impasse led to an increase in vulnerability of households and was an additional shock. She added that prior to all these incidents they had to take into consideration extended family members and fell short of food which increases the suffering. “If we, as partners, don’t respond to these shocks and the same time address those shocks, then we failed the children,” said the UNICEF Rep.

For his part, Mr. Modou Cheyassin Phall, Executive Director of NaNA, noted that nutrition is one of those areas which is not bifocal and where one sector can solve the problem. “The mere fact that we have people from diverse backgrounds is a clear testimony to say that nutrition is a cross cutting issue,” he said.

Mr. Phall emphasised that the causes of malnutrition are multifaceted and therefore in order to solve the problem of malnutrition one must also use multiple sectoral approaches. “We all have a role to play, including the media, you must educate and inform the people,” he implored.

He noted that transferring cash to a vulnerable family can make a lot of positive impact.

Mr. Phall said UNICEF intervened when the EU was not pulling well with the then government of the Gambia and so the funds were not paid directly to the state but given to UNICEF as an agency. This, he said, was not a wrong move because UNICEF is working in the field of women and children.

Mr. Phall said people who are malnourished would find it very difficult for them to contribute effectively in the development of the country. He noted that social vulnerability cannot be discussed without social welfare. He said through a series of meeting with their partners like UNICEF, World Bank, and the Social Welfare Department, they came up with something positive that would elevate the nutritional standard of children and new nursing mothers.

“We are encouraging women to visit health facilities as early as the first three months of their pregnancy so that they can have safe delivery at health facilities to reduce maternal mortality,” advised the NaNA Executive Director.

He concluded that with this support, mothers would be able to continue and practice exclusive breast feeding for six months.

Fanta Bai Secka, the Director of Social Welfare, described this as one giant step that they have taken apart from the school meal that is still going on as part of the national social protection programme that was launched early last year. She said it aims to expand programmes for socials protections for vulnerable people.

The Social Welfare Director noted that research has shown that cash transfers have multiplying effects on the development of children. “As it relates to social protection intervention programme to build the resilience of vulnerable families, especially children, it would be fitting to coordinate effectively so that people can receive their cash transfers on time and without problem,” said Mrs. Secka.

She appeals for people to come on the social protection floor to contribute in order to eradicate poverty.

The opening was moderated by the acting Deputy Executive Director, Malang Fofana, who described the training as important in their crusade to eradicate malnutrition.