Feed the Future Tajikistan Fights Malnutrition and Infant Mortality

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SEATTLE — Given that Tajikistan is home to 1.2 million children under the age of 5, healthcare and nutrition have become major focus areas. In recent years, they have also received international attention as the United States government has invested in a new program, Feed the Future Tajikistan Health and Nutrition Activity, through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

The Genesis of Feed the Future Tajikistan

Feed the Future Tajikistan Health and Nutrition Activity was launched in 2015 as a $13 million investment through the U.S government’s global hunger and security initiative, Feed the Future. The program was designed to help Tajikistan overcome key hurdles in nutrition, sanitation and hygiene to achieve optimum economic growth. Currently, close to half the nation’s population lives below the poverty line and food security is a rampant problem, threatening malnutrition for one-third of the population. Twenty-six percent of children under the age of 5 also suffer from stunting. Certain provinces are more susceptible than others due to lack of uniformity, such as the Khatlon province, which has the highest under-5 mortality rate in the nation of 61 per 1,000 live births.

If left unattended, the state of the healthcare system can have dire consequences for Tajikistan in the future. For instance, the high infant mortality rate can change the population dynamics of the country. When there are more deaths than births, it puts a strain on a nation’s resources and can lead to an aging population. More importantly, there will also be fewer people entering the workforce than those retiring from it, leading to lower productivity in the nation. This can further hinder Tajikistan’s efforts to grow its economy.

Managing the healthcare and food sector of Tajikistan can help mitigate these problems, which is the main intention of Feed the Future Tajikistan. By integrating healthcare at the family, community, clinical and national levels, the program can help make healthcare a universally accessible commodity while simultaneously improving its quality. This can help reduce the health problems in the population and help the economy in the long run.

Agriculture and Nutrition

There is a lot of scope for reducing malnutrition and hunger through the agriculture sector. Tajikistan is still dependent on farming, which accounts for 75 percent of all employment and more than 25 percent of the national income. Currently, only 7 percent of the land is available for cultivation due to the mountainous topography, making it harder for farmers to harvest and maintain crops successfully. As a result, close to one million Tajiks move their businesses abroad and little food is produced within the country itself, leaving residents no choice but to buy it at high import prices.

To combat this situation, Feed the Future has helped several farmers gain access to land and water to grow their businesses. This has resulted in 100,000 farmers being powered by 60 water user associations, helping producers beat the odds and ensure adequate crop yields. With the help of new seedling technology, more than 20,000 metric tons of tomato, cucumber and sweet pepper are being generated.  As a result, the agriculture market is expanding, allowing customers to buy at affordable prices and farmers to earn more profits.

The initiative is also looking to make a bigger impact nationwide by reforming land and water policies. The higher incomes can help farmers invest in technology to make their business more efficient, while the better water policies will minimize the risk of diseases spreading through crops. All these can contribute to lower market prices and health expenses, giving consumers the choice to spend their money on training and education instead.

Healthcare Reforms

In light of the high maternal and infant mortality rates, Feed the Future Tajikistan Health and Nutrition Activity assessed 14 hospitals in 2016. The lack of medical supplies, running water and qualified staff led to Feed the Future working with hospitals to train their midwives, doctors and nurses. Experienced staff was also brought in as part of a mentorship program for health workers. Additionally, the maternity ward was revamped with better facilities in order to improve the quality of service provided to expectant mothers. To reduce the mortality rates among women who choose to give birth at home, 1,400 volunteers were also dispatched to conduct workshops regarding sterilization, proper prenatal care and situations requiring emergency protocol and medical attention.

Feed the Future is also trying to maintain longevity and has been successful in increasing the breastfeeding rate from 37 percent to 85 percent, promoting healthy infant development. USAID has been key in distributing 60,000 brochures spreading information about measures to ensure child and nutrition for mothers and children during the first 1,000 days after giving birth. To complement this, the World Food Programme and USAID have also launched a program to diagnose acute malnutrition in children under 5, which is helping the government track the pattern of malnutrition among the population. With real-time data being produced, more concrete actions can be taken to assuage the root causes of the problem. This is, in turn, increasing the benefits reaped from agricultural reforms and healthier practices of cultivation.

As Feed the Future Tajikistan Health and Nutrition Activity continues to prove, international funding and domestic action can have miraculous results. As people in Tajikistan live healthier lives, there is hope that the obstacles standing in the way of their nation’s development can become a thing of the past.

– Sanjana Subramanian
Photo: Flickr

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