Situational analysis of infant and young child nutrition policies and programmatic activities in the Islamic Republic of Mauritania

Authors


  • Financial support, in alphabetical order: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Helen Keller International, Micronutrient Initiative, Save the Children, United Nations Children's Fund, United Nations World Food Programme, and World Health Organization.

Sara E. Wuehler, Helen Keller International, Africa Regional Office, BP 29898, Dakar-Yoff, Senegal. E-mail: swuehler@hki.org

Abstract

Progress towards reducing mortality and malnutrition among children <5 years of age has been less than needed to achieve related Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), so several international agencies joined to ‘reposition children's right to adequate nutrition in the Sahel’, starting with an analysis of current activities related to infant and young child nutrition (IYCN). The main objectives of the situational analysis are to compile, analyse, and interpret available information on infant and child feeding, and the nutrition and health situation of children <2 years of age in Mauritania as one of the six target countries (Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Senegal). These findings are available to assist countries in identifying inconsistencies and filling gaps in current programming. Between August and November of 2008, key informants responsible for conducting IYCN-related activities in Mauritania were interviewed, and 46 documents were examined on the following themes: optimal breastfeeding and complementary feeding practices, prevention of micronutrient deficiencies, prevention of mother-to-child transmission of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), management of acute malnutrition, food security, and hygienic practices. Mauritania is on track to reaching the MDG of halving undernutrition among children <5 years of age by 2015. National policy documents, training guides, and programmes address nearly all of the key IYCN topics, specifically or generally. Exceptions are the use of zinc supplements in diarrhoea treatment, prevention of zinc deficiency, and dietary guidelines for preventing mother-to-child transmission of HIV. Substantial infrastructure capacity building was also recently implemented in nutritionally high-risk regions, and increases were reported in exclusive breastfeeding rates among children <6 months. The recent National Behaviour Change Communication Strategy is intended to address the needs of adapting programme activities to local needs. Despite these noteworthy accomplishments, the prevalence of acute malnutrition remains high, mortality rates did not decrease as malnutrition rates decreased, the overall prevalence of desirable nutrition-related practices is low, and human resources are reportedly insufficient to carry out all nutrition-related programme activities. Very little nutrition research has been conducted in Mauritania, and key informants identified gaps in adapting international programmes to local needs. Monitoring and evaluation reports have not been rigorous enough to identify which programme activities were implemented as designed or whether programmes were effective at improving nutritional and health status of young children. Therefore, we could not confirm which programmes might have been responsible for the reported improvements, or if other population-wide changes contributed to these changes. The policy framework is supportive of optimal IYCN practices, but greater resources and capacity building are needed to (i) support activities to adapt training materials and programme protocols to fit local needs, (ii) expand and track the implementation of evidence-based programmes nationally, (iii) improve and carry out monitoring and evaluation that identify effective and ineffective programmes, and (iv) apply these findings in developing, disseminating, and improving effective programmes.

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