Malaita Province, Solomon Islands – It was a bright, sunny morning when Hazel saw a pair of jet-black eyes looking at her as she checked the baby’s weight and nutrition chart in a full Auki Clinic, the only clinic in Auki, which is the capital of Malaita Province.
“We see about 50 to 100 babies and young children below the age of two every day here in this clinic with four registered nurses. As we check them one by one, it is heartbreaking to know that a lot of these babies are suffering from malnutrition without the right levels of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients that a baby needs to grow well,” says Hazel Shem, a Registered Nurse stationed at the Auki Clinic.
Of the 1,700 children under five who die in the Pacific region every year, 80 per cent of them die before their first birthday and half of those do not survive through their first month of life with threats to health and nutrition.
Solomon Islands has one of the highest rates of malnutrition in the region with one in every three children under the age of five suffering from chronic malnutrition or stunting – having a short height for their age. Majority of these children also suffer from anemia, which is due to iron deficiency.
While registered nurses, like Hazel, check the health and nutritional status of babies coming to the clinic, they also need further guidance and training in order to provide the best advice to mothers and caregivers on how to support their child with the nutrients they need to survive and thrive.
For this reason, UNICEF partnered with the Government of Solomon Islands to develop and share the High Impact Nutrition Intervention (HINI) guidelines and training package for healthcare workers across the country. The package targets the first 1,000 days of a child’s life, starting from conception, to give them the best possible start in life.
“We had our training last year and I learnt important health advice like the need to give iron and folic acid supplementation to babies and pregnant mothers,” said Hazel. “I also learnt that it is so vital to continuously support new mothers to give only breastmilk to their babies for the first six months and discourage formula or any other alternative milk.”
© UNICEF Pacific/2020/Namohunu Hazel Shem, Registered Nurse, speaks to a parent at the Auki Clinic while vaccinating a child.
Hazel paused for a while as she reflected on how she felt worried and disturbed by the high number of babies and young children coming into the clinic with a high rate of malnutrition. Now, almost a year after the training, she laughs and shares the joy she feels being able to create change in her community.
The HINI five-day training for healthcare workers covered topics from understanding the types of malnutrition and the importance of the first 1,000 days of a child’s life to infant and young child feeding, to iron and folic acid supplementation for pregnant women and positive counselling, amongst many others.
“Now, I advise mothers and caregivers who come to the clinic to introduce fruit and vegetables to their child from six months on. Not only in the clinic, but at home too. I give lots of fruit and vegetables to my child too,” said Hazel.
“Before, when we had babies who were suffering from malnutrition come into the clinic, we used to send them to a nearby hospital. But now we can definitely support them in our own clinic with good guidance and advice.”
Hundreds of healthcare workers like Hazel, not only from the Solomon Islands, but also from Kiribati and Vanuatu, are now benefiting from this HINI training package that has been funded by the New Zealand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT).
Today, we see the same sunny morning in Auki, but with brighter smiles from Hazel as well as other healthcare workers, mothers and caregivers. But most importantly, with cheerful, healthier laughs from the babies and young children in the community.