Rwanda has initiated antenatal Multiple Micronutrient Supplementation (MMS) for pregnant women, aiming to enhance maternal nutritional status and further mitigate the risk of adverse birth outcomes, including stunting, across the country.
The launch took place at Kabaya Hospital in the Kabaya sector of Ngororero District on January 17, where pregnant women received the MMS drugs.
In his address during the launch, Dr Sabin Nsanzimana, the Minister of Health, highlighted that the newly introduced MMS comprises 15 essential nutrients, a substantial increase from the previous formulation, which contained only two nutrients.
He stated that the supplement is provided to mothers at high risk of nutrient loss as part of a comprehensive strategy to prevent maternal malnutrition and child stunting. The initiative will be implemented in seven districts in Rwanda with high rates of stunting as well as maternal and infant mortality.
Nsanzimana said Rwanda is the third African nation to adopt MMS. It achieved this with the support of UNICEF.
Emphasizing the country's commitment to addressing the issue of stunting, he pointed out that the aim is to reduce the figure from 33 percent to below 19 percent by the year 2025.
"There is hope. Ngororero, previously identified as a district with the highest number of stunted children has witnessed a reduction of about 10 percent in the last six months. The introduction of MMS holds the potential to further improve these outcomes," said the Minister.
"We will have more healthy children who are the leaders and parents of tomorrow."
Nsanzimana further thanked community health workers for their ongoing dedication and encouraged them to persist in the battle against stunting.
Lambert Dushimimana, the Governor of Western Province, acknowledged stunting as a challenge impacting the cognitive abilities and energy levels of the nation's children.
He noted that the Rwanda Demographic and Health Survey of 2020 indicated a shift in the province's stunting rate from 45 to 40 percent, a positive trend he attributed to collaborative efforts with parents, community health workers, and leaders.
"We view the initiation of the Multiple Micronutrient Supplementation program as a crucial step in mitigating future instances of stunting in Rwanda, aligning with the country's strategic plan," he said.
Dushimimana also emphasized the importance of fostering continuous awareness and altering citizens' mindsets, urging parents to adhere to the timely administration of MMS drugs to address the issue effectively.
Chantal Byishimo, a recipient of the MMS drug, expressed her confidence in the program, citing its composition of 15 micronutrients contributing to combating malnutrition and preventing her child from stunting.
"This drug will also increase my blood levels and has the potential to reduce deaths of us, mothers," she said.
Byishimo thanked the Ministry of Health and partners for their support.
National guidelines on nutrition for children and adolescents disseminated
During the event, the National Guidelines on Nutrition for School-Aged Children and Adolescents were disseminated.
The guidelines target children aged 6 to 11 years and adolescents from 12 to 19 years, drawing inspiration from the recommendations of the World Health Organization.
They promote optimal nutrition for young individuals with knowledge on maintaining a balanced diet, guiding children and adolescents on what to consume, avoiding certain foods, and providing insights into overall nutritional care. They also aim to rectify nutritional shortcomings during the first 10 years of a child's development.
Minister Nsanzimana emphasized the proactive approach behind introducing the guidelines, asserting that combating stunting requires early intervention.
"By educating the parents of tomorrow, these guidelines aim to instill awareness about proper nutrition, including dietary habits, parental involvement, and support from healthcare facilities. This strategy aims to address nutrition-related challenges before mothers conceive, contributing to the fight against stunting and malnutrition in our country," he said.