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The aim of this study was to determine the practices of primary health care (PHC) nurses in targeting nutritionally at-risk infants and children for intervention at a PHC facility in a peri-urban area of the Western Cape Province of South Africa.
Nutritional risk status of infants and children < 6 years of age was based on criteria specified in standardised nutrition case management guidelines developed for PHC facilities in the province. Children were identified as being nutritionally at-risk if their weight was below the 3rd centile, their birth weight was less than 2500 g, and their growth curve showed flattening or dropping off for at least two consecutive monthly visits. The study assessed the practices of nurses in identifying children who were nutritionally at-risk and the entry of these children into the food supplementation programme (formerly the Protein–Energy Malnutrition Scheme) of the health facility. Structured interviews were conducted with nurses to determine their knowledge of the case management guidelines; interviews were also conducted with caregivers to determine their sociodemographic status.
One hundred and thirty-four children were enrolled in the study. The mean age of their caregivers was 29.5 (standard deviation 7.5) years and only 47 (38%) were married. Of the caregivers, 77% were unemployed, 46% had poor household food security and 40% were financially dependent on non-family members. Significantly more children were nutritionally at-risk if the caregiver was unemployed (54%) compared with employed (32%) (P = 0.04) and when there was household food insecurity (63%) compared with household food security (37%) (P < 0.004). Significantly more children were found not to be nutritionally at-risk if the caregiver was financially self-supporting or supported by their partners (61%) compared with those who were financially dependent on non-family members (35%) (P = 0.003). The weight results of the nurses and the researcher differed significantly (P < 0.001), which was largely due to the different scales used and weighing methods. The researcher's weight measurements were consistently higher than the nurses' (P < 0.00). The researcher identified 67 (50%) infants and children as being nutritionally at-risk compared with 14 (10%) by the nurses. The nurses' poor detection and targeting of nutritionally at-risk children were largely a result of failure to plot weights on the weight-for-age chart (55%) and poor utilisation of the Road to Health Chart.
Problems identified in the practices of PHC nurses must be addressed in targeting children at nutritional risk so that appropriate intervention and support can be provided. More attention must be given to socio-economic criteria in identifying children who are nutritionally at-risk to ensure their access to adequate social security networks.
This study aimed at assessing the effectiveness regarding implementation and impact of a take-home nutrition supplementation programme, the Protein Energy Malnutrition (PEM) Scheme, that targets malnourished pre-school children and pregnant and lactating women in the Northern Cape Province of South Africa.
In assessing implementation of the PEM Scheme, a cross-sectional descriptive study was undertaken over a 6-month period in the six regions of the Northern Cape Province. Interviews were conducted with programme managers and health personnel at clinics who were responsible for implementing the PEM Scheme. In assessing the impact of the PEM Scheme on growth, a retrospective review was done of the clinic records (including anthropometric data) of children enrolled in the PEM Scheme over a 1-year period.
About 76% of the budget allocated to the PEM Scheme had been utilised over the 1-year period. The budget for the following financial year was based solely on food supplements purchased in the previous year. Coverage of malnourished pre-school children and eligible pregnant and lactating women for enrolment was estimated to be 50% and 60%, respectively. Eighty-five per cent of health facilities in the province participated in the PEM Scheme. Some of the main problems identified included: lack of training, inappropriate targeting of certain groups, incorrect application especially of discharge criteria for pregnant and lactating women, inadequate assessment for nutrition-related disease, inadequate nutrition counselling and no standardised monitoring. Of the 319 children enrolled over a year, the mean age was 16.2 (standard deviation 16.2) months, 41% had been low-birth-weight and 18% had been diagnosed with tuberculosis. Ten per cent of the children with a weight-for-age Z-score of <−2 moved into the normal Z-score range after being on the PEM Scheme for a mean duration of 8 months. There was an overall improvement in the weight-for-age Z-scores of 25% of the sample, with a significant difference between the mean weight-for-age Z-scores at enrolment and follow-up (t = 4.8, P < 0.001). This was mainly related to significant improvement in the mean weight-for-age Z-scores of children <2 years.
Numerous problems with the PEM Scheme have been identified which could have limited its impact. Recommendations are proposed for improving the effectiveness and impact of the PEM Scheme in the province.
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