In 2016, SRD expanded its humanitarian program to include a new sector: Nutrition, an area of major concern in Syria where food security insecurity is prevalent on a wide scale and has put pregnant and lactating women at high risk, increasing the rate of birth defects among newborns and stunting childhood development. And while SRD has contributed to establishing greater food security in Syria since the organization’s inception in 2011, a holistic nutritional approach targeting young developing children more recently became a programmatic focus. We began working to address nutritional gaps through preventative and curative practices with a focus on IDP communities who are already living in unstable conditions with limited means to livelihood.
SRD’s nutrition programs assist pregnant and lactating women, young women and girls who were married early and children under the age of 5, all of whom are vulnerable groups in need of priority assistance. SRD has teamed up with medical workers including doctors, midwives and nurses based at medical points and facilities serving displaced populations and other communities in need to train them in best practices for assisting the identified vulnerable groups. SRD’s nutrition interventions aim to educate and raise awareness at the household and community levels to ensure a high level of impact for such an urgent issue.
In Northern Syria’s IDP communities, acute malnutrition, poor Infant and Young Child Feeding (IYCF) knowledge and practices, micronutrient deficiencies and inadequate access to basic services such as food, health, water and sanitation are extremely prevalent.
SRD’s Nutrition Health Services in Northern Syria have been integrated into our health network—specifically our Maternity and Childhood Hospital that offers, as part of its services, nutritional counseling and IYCF consultations that provide education and support for breastfeeding to help encourage pregnant and lactating mothers to breastfeed their children, and our 3 Primary Health Clinics that also offer IYCF consultations and Nutrition services for women and children.
In September 2016, SRD launched one of the first community health nutrition initiatives in Southern Syria to empower women of reproductive age. The Infant and Young Child Feeding (IYCF) program sought out pregnant and lactating women—who were also living as IDPs and vulnerable to nutritional insecurity—to equip them with breastfeeding and nutrition knowledge that can enhance the well-being of their children and mitigate negative coping strategies that may harm them. The women received counseling on the values of breastfeeding, a natural practice that presents numerous advantages in emergency settings, including: delivery of all necessary nutrients to children under 5, enhancement of childhood immunity and decreasing the need for harmful breastmilk alternatives that increase the potential for consuming contaminated water.
SRD’s Community Health Supervisor recruited and trained a team of 15 community health workers on IYCF and the best ways to communicate medical information to households. Aided by educational materials and breastfeeding kits, the female health workers engaged Syrian women in critical conversations about the lifesaving and life-sustaining potential of simple health practices such as breastfeeding. The health workers formed ongoing relationships with beneficiaries and communities at large by reaching them in their homes, with the goal of overcoming barriers to access the services needed to enhance the health and well-being of Syrians.