Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?
According to UNICEF, 16,000 babies in the Philippines die annually due to malnutrition. Considering that the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that babies receive nothing but breast milk for the first six months of life for its health benefits, only one-third of children under six months are exclusively breastfed. Around one-third (35%) of the youngest infants (those 0-1 months) are being bottle fed, as are more than half of infants from 12-23 months. Because of the decline in breastfeeding, many young children and even mothers do not receive the positive health benefits accompanying breastfeeding—including physical and mental health.
In l986, the Philippine government issued an executive order (E.O. 51) that prescribed a new Milk Code which “ensures safe and adequate nutrition for infants through the promotion of breastfeeding and the regulation of promotion, distribution, selling, advertising, product public relations, and information services artificial milk formulas and other covered products.” Despite this and other government efforts, however, implementation of the law has been lacking. Many milk formula and artificial baby food companies continue to aggressively promote their products through targeted mass media. As a result, many mothers, particularly those in marginalized communities with little access to counter-information, to believe that using such products is equivalent to good parenting.
The frequent effects of natural disasters in the Philippines translate to even greater food insecurity and risk of malnutrition for women and their newborns. Annually, approximately 19 typhoons enter the Philippine region with 6-9 making landfall, according to the Joint Typhoon Warning Center (JTWC). Aside from being the country most exposed to tropical storms in the world, other natural disasters occur such as earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and cyclones, due to its location along the Pacific Ring of Fire. Millions of Filipinos experience these calamities, and the most susceptible ones are those who live in areas with high levels of poverty. During such crises, food supply chains are often disrupted for prolonged periods of time with acute impact on infants who are fed milk formula and processed baby food.
In disaster-stricken areas such as Leyte in the Eastern Visayas, where 50 percent of survivor children are reported to be malnourished following Typhoon Haiyan in November 2013, most storm victims were displaced to evacuation centers where the Department of Social Welfare and Development gave formula milk to every mother with an infant, whether or not the mother was previously breastfeeding. In those situatios,, mothers are left to rely on donations, lacking guidance and support for continuing or re-instating breastfeeding and instead rely on bottle-feeding, mixed feeding or using non-nutritious processed foods to compliment. As disaster situations also compromise access to clean water, infants are also put at risk for water-born infections that can further compromise their health.
Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!
Ines Fernandez is tackling malnutrition among infants and young children by empowering and mobilizing the most vital and direct stakeholders of this problem—mothers. In the face of aggressive advertising by baby food companies, Ines realized that informed mothers can be the most credible and effective messengers about nutrition to other mothers. Through her organization, Arugaan (a Filipino word that means to “nurture fully”), Ines is empowering young and old mothers alike to understand the benefits of breastfeeding and nutritious baby food preparation with locally available ingredients. The trained mothers that make up Arugaan’s team serve as experts in lactation and nutritious food preparation to communities and trigger the creation of mother-to-mother support groups to spread best practices. Ines’ team works simultaneously with health professionals and day care providers to adopt and support these practices as a say to reinforce a new pathway to improved child and maternal nutrition.
Building from her work in mainly urban areas, Ines is now focused on increasing nutrition outcomes and resilience among mothers in rural communities, particularly those most vulnerable to frequent natural disasters. By extending the presence of mother-to-mother support groups in these areas, Ines is helping mothers adopt breastfeeding and local food preparation as way not only to reduce the cases of malnutrition, but also increase their own resilience. The mothers become empowered to create their own locally available baby food and breastfeed. In doing so, they avoid the traps that come from the use of formulas and processed foods both in terms of their expense and risk of supply disruption during disasters. Ines also helps the mother-to-mother groups become advocates for spreading what actions to take during disasters to keep themselves and their babies alive and well.
Through the network of mother-to-mother groups and her team’s work with health professionals, Ines is creating a more mother-baby friendly environment in homes, communities and in the healthcare system while reducing the cases of malnourishment and even mortality caused by inadequate infant and child feeding practices.