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A woman holds her baby and shakes hands with a health worker.

A Kenyan community health worker trained by the IYCN Project makes a home visit to counsel a mother on healthy feeding for her baby. Photo: PATH/Evelyn Hockstein.

Accomplishments of the Infant & Young Child Nutrition Project

From 2006 to 2012, PATH led the United States Agency for International Development’s flagship program in nutrition for infants and children, the Infant & Young Child Nutrition (IYCN) Project. Our work built a strong foundation for worldwide efforts to reduce malnutrition among mothers and children and promote HIV-free survival of children.

We collaborated with partners in 16 countries to design and implement programs that contributed to better child growth, healthier communities, and more productive futures. In each country, we worked closely with local partners to ensure that progress would last well beyond the life of the project. As a result, our partners continue to increase the reach of our interventions and use our tools and resources to develop their own programs.

Better policies for nutrition

We set the stage for stronger nutrition policies and programs by encouraging countries to adopt internationally recommended policies, guidelines, and tools. In all, we supported country-led efforts to strengthen 19 national nutrition policies and strategies in 12 different countries. In Madagascar, for example, we developed a comprehensive strategy that workers across the country are using to design and strengthen programs to address high rates of malnutrition among mothers.

We also shared the results of our formative research, promoted adoption of approaches based on evidence, and regularly disseminated good practices and practical tools among nutrition and health stakeholders around the world. As a result, countries, communities, and caregivers have benefited from a more supportive environment for maternal, infant, and young child nutrition programs.

Effective communication programs

An essential component of work has been strengthening social and behavior change communication programs to prevent malnutrition. In each country, we identified both barriers and incentives to adopting behavior with the potential to improve nutrition. We used targeted communications to encourage change and reinforce messages with health workers, communities, and caregivers.

Our training and capacity-building activities reached nearly 5,900 trainers, health workers, community workers, and other care providers, leading to significant changes in their practices and ensuring that caregivers received accurate, actionable advice on child feeding. We also engaged fathers, grandmothers, and community leaders to support improved feeding. We documented these experiences, shared training and counseling tools worldwide, and promoted practical approaches for advancing social and behavior change communications.

Enhanced complementary feeding

After children reach six months of age, adding foods in addition to breast milk to their diets is a critical component of maternal, infant, and young child nutrition programming. We conducted research to increase understanding of complementary feeding practices. We also designed social and behavior change communication and social marketing strategies to promote the best use of nutritious local foods.

In Côte d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Malawi, and Zambia, we worked with partners to create local recipe books. We trained community workers and volunteers to use them in cooking demonstrations and to teach families how to prepare more nutritious meals for children. In Ghana, our social marketing campaign reached households in the Brong Ahafo region with targeted messages on complementary feeding. We aired more than 1,000 radio spots, distributed nearly 6,000 posters and more than 19,000 flyers, and trained 196 health workers and 137 community group leaders to conduct community activities.

Increased HIV-free survival

Our efforts to strengthen infant feeding and HIV policies and programs emphasized the importance of achieving HIV-free survival and preventing mother-to-child transmission of HIV.

We encouraged countries to adopt current World Health Organization guidelines on HIV and infant feeding and improved the ability of health workers to provide nutritional support for HIV-positive mothers. These efforts resulted in dramatic changes in national breastfeeding policies and critical improvements in the practices of health care providers. Notably, in South Africa and Nigeria we contributed to national shifts in breastfeeding policies that are leading to increased HIV-free survival for the next generation.

Focused agriculture for women and children

We paved the way for transformations in how program designers think about and develop agriculture and food security initiatives. We developed and distributed 7,000 copies of a collection of resources to help agriculture project designers address the nutrition concerns of women and children.

By collaborating with governments and others, we worked to orient agricultural programming toward better nutrition, forging critical links between agriculture and nutrition programs in several countries. In Ethiopia, for example, we integrated nutrition activities into an urban gardens program to improve livelihoods among families affected by HIV. By training agriculture extension workers to incorporate nutrition counseling and cooking demonstrations into their activities, we helped families learn how to improve their nutrition and health in addition to generating income from their gardens.

Stronger health systems

Our efforts to improve nutrition programs in health facilities and communities also strengthened the overall delivery of health services for mothers and children. We worked with partners and health workers to improve nutrition services using quality-improvement approaches and by initiating two-way referral systems between health facilities and communities.

By developing and sharing tools for monitoring nutrition programs, we improved program managers’ decision-making and the effectiveness of activities. For example, we assisted the Rwanda Ministry of Health in creating a new national monitoring and evaluation plan to track progress on the country’s strategy to eliminate malnutrition.