They reduce a deadly threat to the health of African children 7 January, 2021

The fatal threat of diarrhea and pneumonia to young children in the world’s poorest countries in Africa can be drastically reduced through the use of traditional performing arts to encourage mothers to provide children with safe food and water, according to a new study carried out by an international team of researchers led by experts from the University of Birmingham, in the United Kingdom, and published in the journal ‘PLOS Medicine’.

The Gambia, like many other low- and middle-income countries, faces high rates of under-five deaths due to diarrhea and pneumonia, the two leading causes of death in this age group in this country and elsewhere. all the world.

Children who switch from breastfeeding to eating foods are at higher risk, as complementary foods become contaminated. Researchers working in The Gambia found that mothers’ food safety and hygiene behaviors were greatly improved through low-cost community behavior change programs that were tested in rural villages.

After six months, the researchers found that hospital admissions had dropped by 60% from diarrhea and 30% from respiratory infections. After 32 months, the mothers continued to practice improved food safety and hygiene practices, informing and encouraging new mothers to do the same.

Lead Investigator Dr Semira Manaseki-Holland, Senior Clinical Professor of Public Health at the University of Birmingham, explains: “We developed a low-cost but apparently effective community health intervention that if replicated in countries around the world could save thousands if not millions of lives in the years to come.”

“Rural villages in The Gambia number in the thousands in sub-Saharan Africa and these methods can be used in many countries in Africa and Asia. We saw that the food hygiene practices of Gambian mothers with children of weaning age improved dramatically, ”he continues. Although we were unable to measure mortality rates, since diarrhea and pneumonia are one of the leading causes of death in young children, we can deduce that the program may result in fewer young children dying from diarrhea and pneumonia. “

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The research program used a randomized test in 30 Gambian villages (15 received the program and 15 instead received messages about home gardens) to identify and correct behavior around critical points in food preparation and handling when contamination may occur. .

The researchers translated the food safety and hygiene information into stories and songs with a central figure named ‘MaaChampian’, a role model mother with behaviors that mothers and families worked hard to achieve. Five visits to the community included performances and music, honoring the accomplishments of mothers and other community members in becoming role models.

Dr Buba Manjang, Principal Investigator for the Gambia and Director of the Public Health Directorate of the Gambian Ministry of Health, explains that “Communities and mothers know most of the correct behaviors, but for some reason they do not do them, even if the necessary means are available.”

“This research offers an effective and low-cost solution for the Gambia and other countries to use cultural performing arts in similar behavior change interventions,” he continues. This will help reduce the fatal impact of diarrhea and pneumonia by involving entire communities to support mothers and improve children’s health. “

Historically, costly and resource-intensive water, sanitation and hygiene interventions were and continue to be the main accepted way of addressing diarrhea and pneumonia, involving the construction of toilets, the provision of clean water and the creation of systems sewer.

However, changing the behavior of communities is as important as these large infrastructure programs. Without involving local communities and people, these new developments may be ignored or not adequately adapted to the lives of the people for whom they are intended.

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Many of these programs rely on home visits to the mother to inform and encourage her to change her practices without adequately addressing the community support she needs to do so.

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