Health Volunteers Pushing to Reduce Undernutrition in Liberia

I recently returned from Liberia, where bad roads and limited medical staff make it difficult for pregnant women to receive health care. The Liberian Agricultural Upgrading, Nutrition and Child Health (LAUNCH) Project is using creative avenues to get nutrition information to pregnant women and mothers in rural communities[1]. LAUNCH has harnessed the power of health volunteers to promote essential nutrition actions (ENA), a set of simple and cost-effective nutrition actions that are proven to reduce maternal and child undernutrition.  Over the past three years, through LAUNCH, JSI has supported the Nutrition Division of the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare in training and supervising health facility providers and community volunteers on ENA. Where doctors and ambulances cannot reach, these volunteers are having big impacts in preventing undernutrition in their communities.

A central tenant of the ENA framework is to use multiple platforms and advocates to promote messages and services for essential nutrition and child health interventions, including optimal breastfeeding for infants up to six months, complimentary feeding for children 6 – 24 months, improved nutrition for pregnant and lactating women, and use of micronutirents.  For this reason, JSI has engaged with general community health volunteers (gCHV) and traditional trained midwives (TTM) to bring nutrition support to communities and families. By the end of 2013, LAUNCH had trained a total of 204 gCHVs and 754 TTMs through government-validated training courses.

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Ella, JSI staff in Liberia (far right), with a group of Trained Tradition Midwives (TTMs) at the Bahn Health Facility in Rural Nimba County

On a recent visit to the Bahn health facility in rural Nimba County, I met with a number of TTMs and gCHVs. It was clear as they packed into the small room, that they were proud to be part of an effort to prevent undernutrition among mothers and children in their communities. Most of them were not educated and could barely read, however, they wowed me with their knowledge of ENA practices. On many points, they proved to be more knowledgeable than the medical staff at the clinic. They regaled me with stories about how they use creative ways to encourage men and women to adopt positive nutrition practices. One gCHV told me about a mother who refused to breastfeed her newborn because she was having a disagreement with her husband. This gCHV spoke with the parents and explained the importance of breastfeeding for the baby‘s proper nourishment and growth. He urged the parents to resolve their disagreement so that the mother could start taking care of their baby again.  Thereafter, they reached an agreement and the baby was successfully breastfed.

One of the most salient comments I heard on this trip was from a TTM who stated: “Since I learned about ENA there has been no more malnutrition in my village.” This is just one example demonstrating how small adjustments in behavior can have a big impact. Using the ENA structure, volunteers in Liberia promote a set of small doable actions to encourage better nutrition practices.  As Liberia continues to rebuild its health system, isolated communities will continue to gain access to more information and services. As this occurs, community volunteers will remain key actors in promoting proper nutrition practices for families, women and young children.

Join JSI in raising awareness for the March for Nutrition campaign.


[1] LAUNCH is a USAID Food for Peace (FFP) Multi-Year Assistance Program (MYAP) that is implemented by ACDI/VOCA in partnership with JSI, Project Concern International (PCI), and Making Cents International.

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