In 2010, Alive & Thrive initiated large scale programs in Bangladesh, Ethiopia, and Vietnam to improve breastfeeding and complementary feeding practices by 2014. In these countries, as with many others in the developing world, traditional behaviors and social norms often contradicted optimal feeding practices, perpetuating malnutrition and poor development. In Vietnam, for example, infants were often fed with water and other non-breastmilk substances before six months of age, due to traditional custom and the perception that Vietnamese women could not produce sufficient breastmilk. Alive & Thrive found that proper feeding in Vietnam was also stymied by aggressive infant formula marketing and a lack of support for breastfeeding from family members, employers, and health workers.
To counter these types of behavior, Alive & Thrive organized mass media campaigns, involving television and radio programming, to reach a large national audience at little cost. They also engaged health workers to communicate individually with mothers regarding feeding behaviors. Alive & Thrive reached more than 16 million mothers and saw rapid and widespread increases in exclusive breastfeeding and diet diversity in all countries.
Individual communications carried out by the program took the form of educational home visits, antenatal and postnatal care visits, health forums, and community mobilization sessions. In Bangladesh, Alive & Thrive deployed health workers with packets of micronutrient powder to prevent anemia and bowls showing the proper types and amounts of food for children of different ages. They also implemented a set of reforms to ensure that health care workers and volunteers were providing the best possible care—trainings, monthly meetings, supportive supervision, and performance-based cash incentives. In Ethiopia, Alive & Thrive leveraged home visits to engage communities and foster supportive environments for breastfeeding. Volunteers hosted conversations encouraging peer assistance for mothers and public events to celebrate healthy achievements in behavior change.
Alive & Thrive’s mass communication programs used radio and television to reinforce the messages of health care workers. In Vietnam, television spots addressed misperceptions about the adequacy of breastmilk and promoted the use of iron-rich foods for growth and development. In Ethiopia, media campaigns were targeted towards men, based on their access to mass media and their influence over feeding decisions—radio dramas and music videos communicated proper food preparation and supportive feeding practices.
Alive & Thrive is at the forefront of implementing infant and young child feeding interventions at scale. Their success, they found, related to the variety of messaging to mothers: the greater number of feeding activities that reached a mother—including home visits, village gatherings, and radio spots delivered by community leaders and medical personnel—the more likely she was to adopt new practices. Generations of children have the potential to benefit from these improvements to breastfeeding coverage and diet diversity, in the form of enhanced growth and brain development. Alive & Thrive has since expanded its programming to include Burkina Faso, India, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, and Indonesia.
Continue to check back on Outrage & Inspire for more innovations on mother and child nutrition, and remember to preorder The First 1,000 Days.
“As I travel around the world talking about American agriculture, the one thing that has struck me is how jealous the rest of the world is about extension, how they would love to have the capacity that we have in this country and often, unfortunately, take for granted, of the ability to reach out and gain very useful information and insights to improve productivity.”
Exactly, I thought.
Digital Preview of The First 1,000 Days
In his new book, The First 1,000 Days, Council senior fellow Roger Thurow illuminates the 1,000 Days initiative to end early childhood malnutrition through the compelling stories of new mothers in Uganda, India, Guatemala, and Chicago. Get a first-look at photos and stories from the book in this new web interactive.
Roger Thurow’s book will tell the story of the vital importance of proper nutrition and health care in the 1,000 days window from the beginning of a woman’s pregnancy to her child’s second birthday.
The 1,000 days period is the crucial period of development, when malnutrition can have severe life-long impacts on the individual, the family and society as a whole. Nutritional deficiencies that occur during this time are often overlooked, resulting in a hidden hunger. It is a problem of great human and economic dimensions, impacting rich and poor countries alike.
In The Last Hunger Season, the intimate dramas of the farmers' lives unfold amidst growing awareness that to feed the world's growing population, food production must double by 2050. How will the farmers, Africa, and a hungrier world deal with issues of water usage, land ownership, foreign investment, corruption, GMO's, the changing role of women, and the politics of foreign aid?
Roger Thurow and Scott Kilman, award-winning writers on Africa, development, and agriculture, see famine as the result of bad policies spanning the political spectrum. In this compelling investigative narrative, they explain through vivid human stories how the agricultural revolutions that transformed Asia and Latin America stopped short in Africa, and how our sometimes well-intentioned strategies—alternating with ignorance and neglect—have conspired to keep the world’s poorest people hungry and unable to feed themselves.