By: Michele Goergen

For almost three decades, Somalia has been facing ongoing conflict, lack of governance and recurrent natural hazards such as drought and flooding. Political progress has been made in recent years to mitigate the impact of these challenges, but it has yet to translate into improvement on basic services. These challenges are a driving factor in population displacement as food insecurity, malnutrition rates and disease outbreaks result in migration to urban centers in search of humanitarian assistance and livelihood opportunities.

With a population of 13.1 million, there are currently 5 million Somali people in need, and this number is expected to rise as the humanitarian situation remains extremely vulnerable.

Nutrition in Somalia

Somalia is already one of the top ten countries with the highest prevalence of malnutrition in the world. 1.1 million people can’t meet their daily food requirements. Women of child bearing age and children less than five years of age suffer the most as they are in key stages of growth and development. Lack of food leads to an increase in malnutrition which hinders both physical and cognitive development.

One of the best ways to reduce infant mortality and ensure that all pregnant and lactating women, infants and young children have the resources to meet their nutritional needs is to encourage proper infant and young child feeding (IYCF) practices. These practices include exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months of life and continued breastfeeding for 2 years, ensuring appropriate, adequate and available complementary foods for infants 6 months and above and providing pregnant women with access to food assistance programs.

Optimal IYCF practices in Somalia is challenging due to:

  • Low rates of timely introduction to breastfeeding, exclusive breastfeeding, continued breast feeding at one year and at two years
  • Feeding young children below six months other liquids such as water and animal milk in addition to breastmilk
  • Strong beliefs and cultural practices such as not consuming colostrum or limiting food intake in the third trimester for pregnant women
  • Limited access to health care services
  • Food insecurity
  • Societal pressures to bottle-feed and use of breastmilk substitutes

Tech RRT work in Somalia

The Nutrition Cluster in Somalia requested an Infant and Young Child Feeding in Emergencies (IYCF-E) advisor from the Technical Rapid Response Team to help strengthen the IYCF-E response in Somalia. This included meeting with partners to design an IYCF-E response plan, creating guidance on prevention and management of breastmilk substitutes donations, building technical capacity for breastfeeding safe spaces/mother baby areas and strengthening IYCF links with other sectors.

The IYCF-E advisor worked with members of the Ministry of Health and partner organizations to create an IYCF-E response plan with indicators that can be worked into existing projects. Multiple sectors provided insight and feedback into the development of the plan including Water and Sanitation Hygiene, Protection, Health and Nutrition. In total 48 people gave feedback and input to the response plan.

A thorough training was facilitated on the response plan to ensure all partners had the technical skills to implement each aspect of the plan. This included training on the breastmilk substitute guidelines, including how to recognize violations of the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes, and how to organize and run a mother baby area. People from all sectors were present for the training and the response was very positive. On the last day of the training, participants ran a mock mother baby area. Ten mothers brought their children and participated in breastfeeding discussion groups, WASH education sessions, play sessions and received an individual rapid assessment of the mother baby pair, all lead by training participants. At the end of the training, participants were confident in their skills to implement the IYCF-E response plan and returned to work to update their projects and proposals to include IYCF-E indicators.


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