Ethiopia: Peer mothers support young mothers

A health extension worker teaches peer mothers, who in turn visit pregnant and new mothers with key messages. Photo: ©2011 John D McHugh for World Vision

A health extension worker teaches peer mothers, who in turn
visit pregnant and new mothers with key messages.
Photo: ©2011 John D McHugh for World Vision

Yesterday we shared about World Vision’s work in Ethiopia to change parents’ understanding of infant and young child feeding (IYCF) practices. Often new mothers’ preferred resource for concerns about child rearing is other mothers, which we’ll explore today.

by Kathryn Reider, World Vision

World Vision has found that timed and targeted counseling delivered through the peer mother method of sharing information is the most successful because it takes the burden of information sharing off health workers, allowing them to focus on other activities, and creates a relationship between mothers that has led to successful adoption of optimal IYCF practices. Peer mothers are volunteers chosen from the community
based on criteria, including their influential status in the community and literacy skills.

“The one-to-one counseling of peer mothers with mothers has brought behavioral changes on IYCF practices,” says Yenenesh Loha, a health worker in Ethiopia. “This has reduced the number of sick children coming to the health post for care and treatment.” Specifically, admissions to the outpatient treatment program for malnourished children have dropped, and diarrheal illness is less common.

Asaminew Workineh, a World Vision supervisor in the Humbo district of Ethiopia, agrees, adding that when health messages are timed and targeted through the peer mother approach, he has seen great success. “Mothers are more receptive to IYCF key messages of each subsequent visit [by the peer mother] because they observe the results from the previous,” he says. “When a peer mother follows up with a mother starting in the last trimester of pregnancy until the child is 2 years old, she is imparting key IYCF messages [at the time mothers need them].”

In order to ensure the behavior changes are sustainable, World Vision strives to have optimal IYCF practices integrated into the health system by training staff from district level down. “IYCF training on timed and targeted counseling for key district health office staff, health workers, supervisors, and peer mothers has greatly changed their knowledge, and brought about a major shift in attitude,” said Asegid Ayza, head of the District Health Office (DHO) in Humbo. “The training also awakened us to focus on breaking the inter-generational cycle of malnutrition through optimal IYCF practices rather than to wasting our efforts on malnutrition management.”

To learn more about World Vision’s work to improve maternal and child health in Ethiopia, visit Strong Women, Strong World, our initiative to support sustainable change in some of the most difficult places in the world to be a girl or a woman.

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