BAJHANG - The eyes of Radha Devi Bohara sparkle as she reaches the government health post - a two-hour walk from her house in a remote village of Syandi village in far-western Nepal.
A housewife and a mother of two, Radha Devi is a busy bee when it comes to doing household chores. Her daily life revolves around cleaning the house, collecting cattle fodder, fetching water, cooking food and serving it to the family, doing the dishes and looking after her children.
But once a month, she doesn’t forget to visit the health post where she receives a vital medical check-up for herself and her 16-month-old son under WFP’s Mother and Child Health Care (MCHC) programme.
“It feels good to have our health check-up and at the same time receive a bag of Nutrimix Plus provided free of cost by WFP,” said the 26-year-old mother, who walked all the way to the clinic carrying her son strapped to her chest in a black shawl.
Under the programme, WFP in partnership with the Ministry of Health has been providing the Nutrimix Plus – a fortified mix of wheat, soya, maize and sugar, and enriched with 12 vitamins and six minerals which aim to improve the health and nutritional status of 4,500 pregnant and breastfeeding women and their young children aged six to 36 months in this remote district of Bajhang.
“My son weighs almost 10 kg now. He has a good appetite and he is very active. The doctor told me these are signs of a healthy baby so I am very happy,” she said as she left the clinic.
Many women from remote villages of Bajhang district wouldn’t normally visit the health posts but that is changing since WFP started the new programme in the region.
“WFP’s food ration has encouraged women to attend the health centres and they are getting important health care for themselves and their babies,” said Akendra Chand, a government health official at the primary healthcare centre in Bajhang.
Chand said the health post used to be all but deserted just a couple of years back, but the situation has changed dramatically after the introduction of the MCHC programme.
“People used to visit us only when someone was really sick. But now I am having busy days. Every day, expecting mothers and women with their babies visit the clinic from far-flung villages to receive free medical care and their food ration,” said Chand.
Chand said the MCHC programme has raised awareness among women about the importance of using health services.
“Because of this scheme, women are getting regular ante-natal and post-natal checkup and their babies are immunized. This has led to a significant drop in the infant mortality rate in the district and the cases of malnourished child are also declining,” said Chand.
WFP also partners with local NGO Himalayan Health and Environmental Services Solukhumbu (HHESS) to increase the nutritional awareness of pregnant and breastfeeding mothers by offering individual and group counseling during health visits. WFP provides technical support to Government of Nepal Health Post and Outreach Clinic health workers as part of capacity building efforts.
In 2011, WFP distributed fortified food to around 37,000 pregnant and lactating mothers and their children (6-36 months old) in the most remote and food insecure hill and mountain communities of nine districts under the MCHC programme.
“I always make sure that my son eats the cooked nutrimix food at least once every day,” said Radha Devi as she prepared to leave the health clinic in the mid-day heat.
“It is difficult to reach the health post but the visit is worth it,” she said with a smile, showing the seven kilo Nutrimix Plus bag she just received from the health official.