Made possible by the generous support of the American people, International Medical Corps has begun implementing Mother Care Groups as an innovative approach to combat malnutrition at the community level in drought-prone areas of Ethiopia. Previously, International Medical Corps trained government Health Extension Workers (HEWs) and nurses on Community-Based Management of Acute Malnutrition and provided relief food items and drugs to health facilities. With funding from the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance, International Medical Corps will follow-up on its past emergency relief efforts to reduce acute malnutrition and improve household nutritional practices in four districts from Wolayita zone, Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples Regional State, and seven districts from East Hararghe zone, Oromia Regional State. International Medical Corps has worked in these perennial hotspot areas since 2003, and this year’s response is directly in line with the Government of Ethiopia’s priority areas.
International Medical Corps will support the Government of Ethiopia’s Health Extension Program by building local capacity and creating positive behavior change at the community level. HEWs are the main providers of primary health care in rural Ethiopia. Mother Care Groups, a system already proven to be highly effective in Cambodia, Mozambique and Uganda, build a sustainable community-level structure for health promotion. Model “leader mothers” learn how to communicate essential health and nutritional topics to new mothers in their community, and become responsible for improving family and child health in their area. For example, in rural Ethiopia, a lack of awareness on optimal child rearing practices, such as exclusive breastfeeding and proper hygiene and sanitation, exacerbate the food insecurity situation by increasing children’s vulnerability to malnutrition. Leader mothers will also be responsible for growth monitoring, observing hygiene and sanitation practices and supporting community-based integrated managed of childhood illness Leader mothers will be role models and counselors to new mothers, and will be in constant communication with HEWs in their areas.
International Medical Corps will train and supervise 100 HEWs to reinforce nutrition messaging and foster behavior change in communities to reduce the impact and severity of future food shortages. Each HEW will manage six 12-member Mother Care Groups. Each Mother Care Group visits 14 households; altogether, the program plans to reach 100,800 households. The low ratio of households to leader mother makes it possible for the leader mother to develop deeper personal relationships with households and to interact with them more frequently, therefore more effectively promoting behavior change. By improving community structures and linking to existing Government of Ethiopia-led programs, International Medical Corps aims to promote long-term behavior change and sustainable food insecurity reduction in the target areas.