Connecting the Dots: Appreciating the Links Between Animal and Human Health, Encouraging Healthier Families
The traditional work of mothers is the glue of society, providing the bedrock of the health of families. Nkuchula Lengima is a mother of seven children and seeing her children healthy and playing around the homestead is a reflective and rewarding moment.
The nutrition of Lengima's young ones has changed over the years through the Livestock for Health program. Lengima now appreciates the link between productive animals and healthier children.
From her livestock herd of 12 goats and one cow, she has provided the much-needed nutrients for her children, ages three to 18, and has given them an early start to life.
“As a result of the livestock feed, we no longer go for long periods without milk during drought times. My children are now drinking more milk and are healthier,” Lengima says.
Over the years, Marsabit County in Kenya has been faced with the persistent challenge of malnutrition.
The Livestock for Health program aims to prevent spikes in acute malnutrition among pastoralist communities that occur during drought periods. The communities migrate their animals in search of pastures, leaving a few milking animals to provide milk for their families.
The Livestock for Health interventions focus on providing livestock feeds for these milking animals to keep them producing enough milk during these periods for children under five years of age and pregnant and lactating women.
The Livestock for Health project is a cluster randomized control trial working with 1,800 households in the Laisamis area of Marsabit County in Kenya. It tests the effect of providing livestock feed on household milk production, milk consumption, and the risk of acute malnutrition in children and women among pastoralist communities.
Protecting livestock protects children
The preliminary findings of the Livestock for Health program show that providing livestock feeds is helping households maintain a steady supply of milk during lean times. Children in those households are drinking at least 200 mLs of milk more than in non-intervention households, and the risk of acute malnutrition in women and children is reduced in the intervention households.
Livestock for Health is supported by the United States Agency for International Development Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance through Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. The program is collaboratively implemented with several organizations including Washington State University, UNICEF, Marsabit County government, the National Drought Management Authority, the Pastoralist Communities Initiative and Development Assistance, and Concern Worldwide.
Data from the Livestock for Health is important to determine the cost-effectiveness of livestock interventions such as livestock feeding with nutritional counseling on preventing spikes in acute malnutrition among children and women. The aim to identify a scalable sustainable intervention to prevent malnutrition among pastoralist communities who suffer a disproportionate burden of undernutrition associated with climate variability.
Ntookwan Leparsant is another beneficiary of the project who agrees that the availability of the animal feeds through the Livestock for Health program has seen the pastoralists travel less often in search of pasture in the last three years.
“We used to move with the rains to ensure our animals do not die. Today, we stay home and feed the animals as we have been taught. The cows, goats and camels now produce more milk that is enough for consumption by the children,“ said Leparsant.
His wife, Namiru agrees that their 10 goats, five cows and five camels have changed the fortunes for her family, especially her three children, ages three to six.
Sarah Omare, administrator in, Marsabit County's Laisamis ward, describes the collaboration with the analogy of the three stones that support a cooking pot. “The three stones are represented by project stakeholders, government and the community and the three have worked towards solving the problem of malnutrition,” she says.
Feed distribution a critical link
The Livestock for Health project has also improved capacity of 71 community health volunteers to undertake quality counseling sessions among the households and 16 field monitors to assist in feed distribution.
Other gains include the leveraging of community health services to scale up COVID-19 risk communication and increased health-seeking behavior among community members. The latter includes increased deliveries attended by a skilled birth attendant.
Challenges that the project faced includes desert locust invasion that ravaged pasture meant for the livestock, the COVID-19 outbreak that affected the smooth implementation of project and climatic variability, which brought a longer than usual rainy season between October 2019 to January 2020, delaying the onset of feed distribution.