The number of children under 5 years with stunted growth decreased significantly from 40 percent in 1993 to 18 percent in 2022 across the country.
This is according to data by Kenya Demographic Health Survey KDHS 2022.
This is happening while campaigns are being carried out by various stakeholders to encourage good health and nutrition among children.
Most important is the campaign to breastfeed children for six months exclusively.
Juliet Anzazi is a mother to a 9 months child today she has come to attend an awareness talk on the importance of breastfeeding in Mbudzi Dispensary, Jaribuni ward in Ganze constituency of Kilifi County.
It has been the norm since she was expecting, today she keenly listens to a motivational session about the importance of mother’s breastfeeding their baby to see if she can learn something new.
Anzazi, a believer of exclusive breastfeeding emphasizes on its importance and how it has helped her child.
“Immediately I gave birth I started breastfeeding my baby, because before you are discharged from hospital the nurses ensure that the child is able to latch and breastfeed. I did so exclusively for 6 months without giving her any food, I was following the nurse’s advice and also feared if I did my baby would become sick”, she says.
Sitting next to her is Leah Chiriba who’s almost 11 months old and is playful in her mother’s lap breastfeeding.
Chiriba explains the challenges she faced after giving birth and almost contemplated giving porridge to her son because she was crying every time and people told her it’s hunger that makes the baby cry.
“I almost went to my neighbor to ask for food for my baby, but I remembered the teachings at the hospital and decided to breastfeed him, you can see how healthy he is,” she boastfully adds.
Today nurse Anastasia Juma of Mbudzi Dispensary is taking them through the lessons of the importance of breastfeeding.
However despite this campaign, Kilifi County still seems to be facing challenges.
Juma says most mothers do not adhere to 6 months exclusive breastfeeding due to work and start giving them solid food after going back to work.
She adds that they are using Community Health Promoters to create awareness on the importance of exclusive breastfeeding to reduce the cases of malnutrition among children in Kilifi County.
Kilifi County is leading with the percentage of exclusively breastfed babies for the first 2 days after birth in Coast Region with 89.2 percent followed by Kwale and Lamu County respectively.
She says with Kilifi witnessing teenage pregnancies, most young mothers are not willing to breast feed their babies when they go back to work or school.
This leads to babies’ introduced to other foods at an early stage even before the age of 6 months hence at times leading to malnutrition
“Sometimes you find a mother is pregnant even before the baby is 6 months old , so the mother is in a dilemma whether to continue to breastfeed or not, however we sensitize them on these issues in order for them to continue breastfeeding the babies”, she explains.
Thuva also blamed lack of support from men whose wives are pregnant and protested that pregnant mothers have complained to her that some men don’t even bring food home for their wives.
She cited poverty and culture as reasons as to why some mothers complain they are unable to exclusively breastfeed which leads to malnutrition among children.
According to the 2022 Kenya Demographic Health Survey Kilifi county has a stunting prevalence of 37 per cent followed by West Pokot and Samburu counties with 34 per cent and 31 per cent respectively.
World Health Organization WHO refers to stunting as the impaired growth and development that children experience from poor nutrition, repeated infection, and inadequate psychosocial stimulation. Children are defined as stunted if their height-for-age is more than two standard deviations below the WHO Child Growth Standards median.
United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund UNICEF discloses that male children have more cases of stunting than female children, while rural areas are more affected than urban areas.
Ken Miriti is a health coordinator on reproductive health in Kilifi and says the county is already putting plans on awareness on the importance of breastfeeding.
He also added that they are already adopting a policy of making sure employers are incorporating mothers’ rooms in their place of work to enable mothers to breastfeed when at work.
Even though he says it proves to be a challenge as most employers say they will incur additional costs to come up and maintain the rooms, he insists the journey towards achieving this has just started.