Mother becomes major VAS champion in Kandara

As a mother of three beautiful children, Grace Njoki has taken it upon herself to talk to other mothers about Vitamin A.

With twins still in the course of taking their Vitamin A doses and an older son who faithfully attained all prescribed paediatric landmarks, Grace can confidently talk to other mothers. As the Swahili say, “She who praises the sun has been shined on”, Vitamin A has been Njoki’s sunshine. “In the whole village, they know that my children don’t fall sick as often as the other women’s. They wondered and asked me. I could not keep quiet,” she says.

As she talks, her one-and-a-half-year-old son, Albert Maina, is busy trying to grab the interviewer’s recording device. With irrepressible curiosity and boundless energy, he at some point succeeds. He turns it over, presses it all over, and proceeds to try and pop into his mouth. Njoki said this is one of the differences between her children and those of the other women she knows in her village. Children who have not been receiving Vitamin A are weak from ill-health and are not active, hence not curious about the world around them.

“I know Vitamin A helps with eyesight and the body’s defence against illness. I was taught all this during the Vitamin A Supplementation (VAS) talks here in Kandara Sub-County Health Centre. Maina and his twin sister Anne Wambui have been supplemented three times. I know that at 6 months the child is supposed to get the blue capsule and at 1 and-a half months, the child gets the red one,” Njoki says.

She adds that every time the health worker gives the Vitamin A, she/he marks it in the child’s clinic book and in “another book” (the tally sheet) that they keep. Njoki admits that bringing her children for VAS is an activity that she undertakes with religious zeal. “I’m motivated to do this by the knowledge that it’s good for my children.”

Her children are among hundreds who are benefiting from the VAS Scale-Up campaign currently running throughout Murang’a County. The campaign, funded by Nutrition International and implemented by the Centre for Behaviour Change Communication (CBCC AFRICA), aims to assist the Ministry of Health in expanding VAS coverage for children aged 6-59 months. It employs a four-channel delivery strategy in reaching children: early childhood development education (ECDE) centres, health facilities, outreaches and community units. Murang’a has had alarmingly low VAS coverage which the campaign aims to boost to over 80%. The campaign’s achievements so far include making a difference for the children of mothers like Njoki.

Although her first-born son Evans Kamau, now 12, was also supplemented, she did not then have the knowledge she has now.

Njoki was so convinced by the message she heard that she easily convinced her husband who now participates in bringing the little ones to the clinic. She explained that she did not need much convincing since he is fairly well-informed and could easily seek information for himself. Once the details of VAS were brought to his attention, he took to it like a duck to water. The result is evident in their healthy, energetic children.

Njoki’s neighbours and fellow young mothers were a different story. “I have friends who don’t bring their children to receive Vitamin A. It can be exhausting and frustrating arguing with them but one easier way has been to just set them an example. Every time I’m bringing my children to the clinic I announce it to them. And they know what I’m talking about because they can see that their children are prone to falling sick more than mine.”

This is not isolated to Kandara. All over Murang’a County, VAS is making waves as parents report radical transformation in the health of their children. Most say that the differences between children who have been supplemented with Vitamin A and those that have not are visible. Yet, even with the campaign being felt across the county, Njoki says some mothers, though aware of the benefits, still drag their feet and come up with excuses not to take their children to facilities to receive Vitamin A.

They might be under the influence of certain older women who protest that the children of “nowadays” are being over-protected and over-medicated. “Some of the older women deride us and say they didn’t take their children to health centres as frequently as we do yet their children grew up to be just fine. I tell them their world was probably different and that in our time we need this. The world is more polluted today, not as pure as it used to be in their time. Since I have seen the benefits of it, I continue to tell my friends to supplement every child they get.”


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