Blog

The right nutrition intervention bundle in the first 1000 days for a fair start to life

Blog by Masum Billah and Mohd Anisul Karim, icddr,b

In current times, human capital is regarded as essential to the growth and development of nations. Factors that impede investment in the development of human capital hinder national development, arrest economic progress and deprive the country the benefits of globalization. One such adverse factor is stunting – a condition where an individual does not grow in length as they should in utero and over the first 5 years of life.

The first 1000 days encompasses the period from conception up until the child is 2 years of age. The height of the child at this age is the single best indicator of how well-off, cognitively and economically, a person will be down the road. Nutrition during this critical period is crucial to influence stature and later life outcomes. However, intuitively, many people think that everyone would have different growth trajectories during this period and that this would be influenced heavily by our genetic make-up. In reality, provided optimal environmental conditions, all children, regardless of where they live, were found to grow at similar rates in utero.

This makes research on what interventions work, can be delivered to everyone, are cost-effective and can bring about changes in a single generation – of utmost importance. To fill the evidence gap on an appropriate combination of preventive nutrition interventions, a cluster randomized trial is being conducted in a food-insecure zone of Bangladesh. The policies underpinning investments based on this research is expected to be transformative in developing counties with a high undernutrition burden. This research, funded by Transform Nutrition and led by researchers at icddr,b –attempts to explore how the right nutrition interventions can be delivered at scale to optimize human growth as capital for national and global development.

Large-scale community-based trials and their systematic reviews have demonstrated what works when implemented at scale. We know that awareness of the problem is important to drive care-seeking behaviour, and being educated makes people more likely to seek the right help. We also know that mothers appropriately counselled tend to adopt healthier practices during and after pregnancy. Counselling for exclusive breastfeeding and weaning at the right time result in a significant increase in these practices. We also understand that in resource-poor settings, nutritional supplements may improve dietary diversity. Thus, a more pertinent question, perhaps, is what combination of counselling (during and after pregnancy) and supplement (or absence of it) gives us the best value for money. This “bundling of nutrition interventions trial” currently taking place in Bangladesh is an attempt to answer a) the combined effect of the different intervention combinations, and b) if there is any evidence of synergy between prenatal and complementary feeding supplement on stunting prevention.

The TN Bundling study has 3 interventions bundled in different combinations in 4 arms with the 5th arm being the comparison group:

  1. First arm: delivers a validated counselling strategy to promote maternal nutrition during pregnancy, exclusive breastfeeding and complementary feeding, along with prenatal nutrition supplement for pregnant women and complementary food supplement for the child from 6 to 24 months of age.
  2. Second arm: provides the counselling intervention with prenatal supplementation only.
  3. Third arm: combines the same counselling intervention as above with post-natal supplementation for the child from 6-24 months of age.
  4. Fourth arm: pregnant women in this arm receive only the counselling intervention.
  5. Fifth arm: where participants will continue to follow existing practices as is.

All interventions are being delivered door-to-door by community health workers. Pregnant women are enrolled in early pregnancy and are followed up until the children reach their second birthday.  The child’s height for a given age will reflect the effectiveness of the intervention bundle in each of the 4 arms compared to the comparison arm.

We will also be exploring changes in mother and child’s dietary and hygiene practices, and childhood gut infections that have huge impact on health. A comparatively novel approach used in this project is a bespoke electronically guided (tablet-based) intervention delivery and data collection platform for all staff, and a web-based real-time monitoring system for supervisors. Further details of the study can be accessed here.

The preliminary results of the trial are due in 2018. Choosing the right combination of interventions, based on the trial findings, will help policymakers in Bangladesh and other developing countries to make data-driven budgetary decisions. This will ultimately build on the demographic dividend Bangladesh has already achieved and accelerate our progress towards a middle income country.

Reflections on the Evidence for Action in South Asia

Patrizia Fracassi, Senior Nutrition Analyst and Strategy Advisor for the Scaling-Up Nutrition Movement Secretariat and member of the Transform Nutrition Consortium Advisory Group gives her reflections.

It has been an incredible privilege to be part of the Transform Nutrition Consortium Advisory Group and to have participated in this Symposium in Kathmandu. The work carried out by Transform Nutrition shows that, in order for the research agenda to be cutting edge, opportunities have to be seized upon and worked with through engagement of key stakeholders, such as academia, research, policy makers, implementers and advocates.

The evidence for action in South Asia generated by Transform Nutrition will help to build bridges in the complex and evolving landscape of nutrition. It highlights with lessons from Bangladesh and India how essential it is to integrate nutrition into health systems. But it also demonstrates that the engagement of frontline workers remains challenging. As illustrated by Kavita Chauhan (PHFI), explaining the story behind the data is vital to increase synergies among people and bring delivery at scale. Findings by Shilpa Deshpande (IDS) were helpful to unravel the identity politics among service providers while the presentation by Rasmi Avula (IFPRI) clarified the incentives that are motivating frontline workers in India. If we want to improve the quality of nutrition services and address challenges of low utilization, we need to understand people and get more of this type of evidence.

We know that Governments invest in social protection programmes. But how do we make them work for nutrition? The results from a study in Bangladesh by Akhter Ahmed (IFPRI) confirm that adding intensive Behaviour Change Communication to cash transfer programmes provides the greatest gains for nutrition. Yet, more research is needed on how this can be replicated at scale. The diagnostic by Suman Chakrabarti (IFPRI) on how big drivers of social spending can be analyzed using a nutrition lens could be applied beyond India. If a large-scale programme fulfills its basic mandate, is it feasible to work with implementers and budget holders to incorporate nutrition goals and actions? This type of assessment is timely to explain the politics of financing and ensure that assumptions are studied before important decisions are made.

I had the privilege to chair the session on the Stories of Change together with Zivai Murira (UNICEF) and to hear from the evidence from Nepal, Bangladesh and the Indian State of Odisha. It was an inspiring and motivating session. The Stories of Change led by Stuart Gillespie (IFPRI) have the greatest potential to reach out to communities beyond nutrition. They link together and explain which factors are important in each context. These factors touch upon different sectors, calls for a variety of stakeholders to get engaged and show that multi-disciplinary teams can help to clarify lessons from the past and highlight future scenarios.

It is encouraging to see how the quantitative work by Derek Headey (IFPRI) to analyze the drivers of nutritional change has been applied and customized in the three countries. The presenters – Kendra Cunningham (Nepal), Masum Billah (Bangladesh) and Neha Kohli (India) – demonstrated that the right enabling environment was the required factor in each country but the triggers were specific to each situation. A key take away for me was that a committed and accountable leadership such as the one in Odisha State and Nepal brought together the evidence and the coherence required to enable the change. This would have not been possible, however, without the championship demonstrated by a wide range of stakeholders in moving the nutrition agenda forward.

Transform Nutrition shows that the evidence for action is there and that people can effectively work together to deliver nutrition. This is the time to reach out to all actors with a stake on nutrition. As highlighted throughout the Symposium, a better understanding of the people, be they mothers, caregivers, frontline workers, advocates or leaders, will enable us to act upon every opportunity and bring the change.

Reflections on the East Africa Transform Nutrition Symposium

Grainne Moloney, Head of Nutrition in Kenya for UNICEF and member of the Transform Nutrition Consortium Advisory Group gave her reflections on the day at the end of our meeting in Nairobi on 8 June 2017.

“Thanks to all for coming today and for your excellent participation. I do feel we are all very privileged to have been able to be here today and have access to such important and cutting edge research that we can immediately take back and apply to our work. Most of the time we are all too busy to reflect on the new papers/ evidence being published so today we had the opportunity to come together in our different communities from Government, academia, research, policy makers, programmers all with a common goal of how to improve the nutritional situation of children in Africa. We had time to openly discuss the latest findings and opportunities of application – this is rare. We also must acknowledge that most regions in the world are now seeing reductions in the absolute numbers of stunted children, with the exception of West Central East and Southern Africa so the learning from today is vital to help us all to get the numbers and indicators moving downwards by applying this learning immediately in our day to day work. The fact that you are all still here after 5pm on a weekday given we are now deep in traffic in Nairobi, also shows your interest in today’s meeting and on behalf of you all I would like to specifically thank the Transform team and the local organizing team of Save the Children for arranging and inviting us all to such an interesting and successful day.

So to provide a quick summary of the 4 sessions: Agenda here

o Session one  ~ Stories of Change in Nutrition: Africa set the basis of what works in terms of success stories in stunting reduction based on a review of several case studies- we learned the key common drivers and factors that need to be in place to reduce undernutrition and the case studies illustrated a common theme over and over again. While as a community we have struggled to find the silver bullet to reduce stunting from the quantitative side – now we know the important factors that do have an impact and that it doesn’t have to take generations, that changes in the short term are possible with the right enabling environment – this is something all of us today can carry back to our countries – where we can all write our own story of change and review where we are and what areas we need to focus on more.

o Session two ~ Nutrition sensitive social protection brought the latest evidence on the very topical areas of social protection and nutrition – with 2 solid country examples from Ethiopia and Kenya as well as the review of other studies by John Hoddinott on the potential for its role in stunting reduction. We know the research from Latin America has shown good results – but we have yet to see these same results in Africa – why is that – what are the issues and learning around targeting, monitoring, transfer value and what do we need to consider when we design such programmes. The experience from Ethiopia and Kenya clearly highlighted the evolution of the large Government led programmes for the most vulnerable populations and that over time they are becoming much more nutrition sensitive. It is important to recognize these are dynamic programmes whereby we, as the nutrition community, now need to be more proactive and be at the table to advocate for increased nutrition sensitivity in the design. And let’s generate that evidence for Africa as this is a gap and let’s look at the wider welfare programmes also as an opportunity to influence — and not just cash transfers as ultimately this is the future for support to our vulnerable communities.

o Session three ~ Transform Nutrition research from Kenya and Ethiopia then highlighted several innovative research studies supported by Transform Nutrition that aim to improve nutrition outcomes. The studies ranged from technological innovation in terms of using handheld devices in nutrition programmes which looked not just at the time saving side but also on efficiency and quality assurance to new approaches in using Social Returns on Investment (SROI) and giving a new importance and value to people’s perceptions of caring for their children. Finally we heard 2 case studies that reinforced some of the earlier learning on social protection, that if we don’t make that connection to the household and the behaviors and needs of that household in the design of our programme and only focus on the supply side such as increased production, we will not have an impact on improving nutrition outcomes.

o Session four ~ Leadership in nutrition was a highly inspiring and motivating session where we had the privilege to learn from Transform’s nutrition champions who through their commitment energy and belief in their work- have made extraordinary influence and gains in their sector. Again common themes emerged through each of the stories- and we can all take something from them. The role of leader also was highlighted but not always in the traditional sense of a senior Government official but in all the work we do – we can all be champions to improve the agenda , also the stories highlighted it is not always easy , there are often conflicts of interest that we have to manoeuver but some of the key learning was the importance of getting people together, having a common vision, dealing with the challenges and being self aware of what is possible- so let’s all take inspiration from these great women and do our bit to get nutrition on the agenda in our countries.”

Back to the storyboard

by Stuart Gillespie

What knowledge is needed to ride a bike? Is it enough to have a manual?  Of course not… you need to get on the bike, fall off, get back on again… and eventually you’ll figure it out. The manual may provide information on “what” to do, but knowledge of “how” to do it is tacit knowledge that can only be acquired from experience.  This important distinction was made in “The Concept of Mind” (1949) by Gilbert Ryle, a British philosopher – between “knowing that” and “knowing how”. In nutrition, as in many development arenas, we have a wealth of knowledge products (guidelines, toolkits, checklists) that focus on “what to do” but not enough documented experience of attempts (some successful) of how to do it. [Read more...]

Transforming the Food and Nutrition Landscape in Assam

 by Neha Raykar, Public Health Foundation of India

Recently, I attended a policy seminar titled ‘Transforming Food and Nutrition Landscape in Assam’ on 29th March 2017 in Guwahati, Assam. The dialogue was co-organized by the Inter-Agency Group, Assam and Coalition for Food & Nutrition Security and was attended by about 50 stakeholders comprising senior policymakers from Government of Assam and Government of India, as well as representatives from local NGOs, educational institutes, and bilateral agencies.

The purpose of the seminar [Read more...]

Challenging dominance: identity politics in the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) Programme, India

By Shilpa Deshpande, PhD Candidate, Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex

Ten years before I joined the ICDS as an anganwadi worker, my cousin mother-in-law used to work here. At that time, the division of the village population between anganwadi workers was such that lower caste households were served by my mother-in-law whereas only the higher caste households were served by Lata madam, this was her rule….so… my mother-in-law’s field area was scattered across the village. Then when I joined, Lata madam said that just like my mother-in-law I should be given the lower caste communities. I refused…. I said give me any part of the village but I want half and I want it along a continuous line then only will I be able to work. This led to a fight, which continued for several days.

Meena, Anganwadi worker [Read more...]

Learning from implementation complexity – how might we boost both livelihoods and nutrition for the extreme poor in Bangladesh?

Avoiding soundbites on project success or failure…

By Dr Nick Nisbett, IDS research fellow and theme 3 research leader for Transform Nutrition and Ferdous Jahan, Professor of Public Administration, Dhaka University

Last week in Dhaka we were hosted generously by BRAC and ICDDR,B at a conference on the boosters and constraints to delivery of large health and nutrition programmes, where we presented the results of the project Impact Evaluation of DFID Programme to Accelerate Improved Nutrition for the Extreme Poor in Bangladesh. This was a three year, multi-methods mammoth evaluation of the nutritional impact of two of DFID’s Bangladesh programmes focusing on the extreme poor and another benefitting the urban poor. These were Economic Empowerment of the Poorest (EEP) (AKA Shiree), the Chars Livelihoods Programme (CLP) and Urban Partnerships for Poverty Reduction (UPPR).  We got a lively reaction from the audience and some tips on how we might better present our results in future, where all too often failure to find the expected, ambitious impact (in this case on child stunting) is translated into the soundbite that programme x failed, or approach y is not worth repeating.

Ferdous and Nick presenting the evaluation in Dhaka, February 2017

Ferdous and Nick presenting the evaluation in Dhaka, February 2017

This would be a sad outcome of the evaluation – ignoring the valuable lessons of these programmes and DFID’s innovative and much needed approach to try to link up the livelihoods needs of the extreme poor more holistically with specific actions designed to improve child nutrition.There is a lot riding on such models working in future, particularly in Bangladesh, where as one of us argued at the conference, most nutritional gains have not come from such holistic nutrition programming but wider improvements in aspects of people’s lives which may now start to plateau.

Supporting child outcomes in poor families more holistically…

The evaluation began in 2013 when DFID and partners recognised that the livelihoods elements of the programmes alone were not leading to nutritional improvements in the children of beneficiary households.  The food security and productive asset transfer / income creation/support elements of these programmes were likely to benefit broader household food security. But ensuring household food security and boosting income is a necessary, but not sufficient, measure to ensure improvements in the nutritional status of children.  Among other things (including sanitary, healthy environments) mothers and carers need the right support for breastfeeding and feeding in the early years so that children receive the immunity, nutrient boosting and pathogen-free benefits of breastfeeding, and are then fed sufficient, diverse diets alongside breastmilk in the critical developmental years until two.

Three to four years into the operation of these programmes, therefore, DFID added an additional component of nutritional support for mothers, children and adolescent girls.  This was to be delivered by women recruited within the community (community nutrition volunteers – or CNVs), trained to deliver a package of iron and folic acid tablets to benefit mothers and adolescent girls along with collective (e.g. courtyard meetings) and individual level (home visits) awareness raising activities. Children below two were to benefit directly from a combination of breastfeeding/feeding support to their mothers, with provision of deworming tablets and five nutrient micronutrient powders to be sprinkled on their food.

Getting ahead of our ambitions…

Ultimately this was a big ask of the three programmes, already tasked with running complex livelihoods delivery.  Ideally it would have been designed in at the beginning, rather than as a separate component, but given that this combination of support (livelihoods + nutrition) was untested, it seemed like a reasonable plan. Perhaps what was difficult though in this case was the usual donor pressures to show results within the space of two years – a theoretically possible but practically ambitious target of reducing child stunting.

We are all guilty of pushing ambitious targets on stunting, because it is a marker of chronic undernutrition – a risk factor in 45% of all child deaths and a sign of other profound deficiencies which can lead to poorer, less healthy lives. However, those who have been in the evaluation and nutrition game for some time now, including Purnima Menon, who was at the conference, have been arguing that this doesn’t necessarily mean we should be applying ambitious stunting targets to all nutrition programmes – because so many things need to happen in concert to produce both well nurtured but also all round healthy children. As Purnima’s presentation showed, even the best run programmes which focus only on child feeding practices  will not show a result on stunting and nor should they be expected to, particularly within a short evaluation time span. Asking mothers to diversify children’s diets also requires time and money to do so. Perhaps the programmes we evaluated, because of their wider and more holistic approach to livelihoods, had this opportunity, but it was untested water in this combination and at this scale.

Learning what worked…

The evaluation (randomised between ‘livelihoods only’ and ‘livelihoods plus nutrition’ recipients) was therefore set up to look at impacts earlier on in the ‘impact pathway’ – e.g. in changes in the knowledge and behaviours around particularly optimal child feeding practices (e.g breastfeeding within three hours of birth, which hugely boosts immunity, avoiding feeding water before the child is six months, having a sufficient, diverse diet whilst still including breastmilk thereafter). And we wanted to explain why and how all this happened or didn’t, so a process evaluation element monitored how the programmes were implemented, whilst a qualitative community based element considered barriers, constraints and wider contexts within the communities themselves.

To cut to the chase, what we learnt at the conference was to be even more careful not to say, in future, that there were no impacts on child nutrition resulting from this type of model (to be fair that’s not what we said or exactly how the audience responded – we exaggerate!).  And ultimately, we saw that the community nutrition volunteer based model did not fail.  The programmes delivered some of the key outputs in terms of getting nutrition workers in place, and they visited most families, delivering the IFA tablets, mircronutrients and deworming tablets and some counselling.  Mothers generally had positive things to say about the workers – they trusted them and when we tested the workers’ knowledge at endline they scored reasonably highly, so they were well trained. Mothers’ knowledge about the benefit of iron in diets increased; children consumed the supplements or other iron-rich food as a result and we also saw improvements in some cases in terms of non-introduction of water or other substances before six months.

…and what didn’t…

But where things fell down were not on general programme delivery, but on the long neglected specifics of implementation– not on whether the nutrition volunteers went to households, but how often they went there, how long they spent there, how many topics they discussed, whether they were age appropriate for the situation of the mother and child (for example, too much time was spent on explaining the benefits of exclusive breastfeeding when mothers already had children too old for this).  The worker’s caseloads were too high, they were travelling too far in difficult to reach areas, spending less time with mothers than ideal and were not receiving the type of supportive supervision and monitoring which would have detected and improved these critical aspects of delivery earlier. So the types of indicators most likely to be of long term benefit to immunity or child development (ie consuming diverse and sufficient food high in micronutrients) and/or likely to actually lead to improved growth (e.g. diets including animal source-food) did not shift.  No surprise, then, that neither, ultimately, did stunting.

In the qualitative study communities mothers reported the difficulties of following prescribed practices when they were time poor, or couldn’t afford diverse diets, or time to cook separate meals for fussy children, or didn’t have the freedom to decide on child feeding practices themselves, or were equally likely to value opposing advice from e.g. mothers-in-law.

…..Nonetheless….

Despite the enormous pressure DFID are under to produce results, they have not shied from commissioning these types of evaluations which get to the heart of implementation complexity, particularly for these new types of much needed models. We’re slowly getting the evidence through that such mixed models (e.g. in a much smaller trial in Bangladesh, combining cash transfers and child feeding support) can have significant results (yes, even on stunting).  We’re still not convinced that similarly ambitious goals for stunting should be set for two year programmes experimenting at scale, even while it is still instructive to try to measure any change.  But what we have learnt is immensely valuable for future programming (and again, to their credit, DFID have taken on board all the recommendations so far). Ultimately, therefore, such knowledge leaves us better prepared for “delivering success at scale”.

The evaluation programme was led by IDS in partnership with IFPRI, BRAC Institute of Governance and Development (BIGD) and Prof. Ferdous Jahan of Dhaka University; ITAD, CNRS and was part of the MQSUN programme led by PATH. See here for the final report and here for a shorter report brief. The Delivering for Success Conference was hosted by BRAC and ICDDR,B in collaboration with the Transform Nutrition and Future Health Systems Consortia.

 

What factors influence community nutrition workers in performing their jobs? Preliminary findings from Bihar, India

by Aparna John, PhD candidate, Institute of Development Studies at University of Sussex

Child undernutrition rates in India are among the highest in the world (Raykar et.al, 2015). Despite the decline in undernutrition indicators such as stunting (low height for age), underweight (low weight for age) and wasting (low weight for height), India is home to 40 million stunted and 17 million wasted children. The Government of India has invested in efforts to reduce childhood undernutrition and improve maternal and child health through one of its flagship programmes — the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) Scheme. ICDS, the world’s largest community nutrition programme, is delivered by 1.34 million village based female workers, Anganwadi workers (AWWs). [Read more...]

What works to improve nutrition? Success stories and lessons learned from six countries

Stories of Change in Nutrition hosted a symposium at the Micronutrient Forum on Sunday 23rd October 2016.

sound-iconListen to the recorded session

We were delighted to see over 50 people in the room including representatives from SUN, NGOs, research organisations and donors for our symposium at the Micronutrient Forum. This interesting and interactive session had an invited panel to present and discuss the ‘Stories of Change in Nutrition’ project which has been funded by CIFF and DFID. [Read more...]