Through the Eyes of a Policy Maker: The Value of Public Engagement

April 30, 2015

“Research has helped me change my perspective on implementation of policies surrounding Maternal, Infant and Young Child Nutrition (MIYCN).” explains Betty Samburu, a program manager at the Unit of Nutrition and Dietetics under the Ministry of Health in Kenya. Betty has experience in maternal, infant and young child nutrition policy development and implementation. She got an opportunity to work with APHRC in community engagement in research on MIYCN and knowledge translation.

The public engagement project using participatory action research methods was conducted across six counties (Nairobi, Kwale, Machakos, Vihiga, Kajiado, Kiambu) in Kenya to establish innovative, public-informed approaches of community engagement in baby friendly community initiatives, in order to inform effective implementation of the baby friendly initiative in Kenya. For Betty, this was a great opportunity and an eye opener.  By engaging with mothers, community leaders and other key informants in the community on MIYCN issues, she was able to see the need and importance of research in developing programs within the Unit of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Betty meets with a ‘Mother Support Group’ in Cambodia

Betty Samburu visited Cambodia in September 2014 to learn from their experience in implementing the national Baby Friendly Community Initiative (BFCI) program. She travelled to many parts of the country and witnessed the implementation of the BFCI program. She saw first hand the various ways breastfeeding is being promoted through the BFCI program. For example, a key strategy is the use of the BFCI groups – also known as ‘mother support groups’.  These groups comprise a model mother, village chief, village health support group (VHSG)-members of the health centre and the head of BFCI in the health facility. These groups promote breastfeeding among mothers in the community. They conduct campaigns to promote exclusive breastfeeding and infant feeding. The campaigns are taken seriously with posters put up in maternity wards in most hospitals and in the community.

Betty speaks to a mother in a hospital in Cambodia

Once Betty returned to Nairobi, she has been passionate about sharing and using the lesson learned from the Cambodia visit. She shared her Cambodia experience at a symposium involving stakeholders in MIYCN meeting. The stakeholders were impressed, saying Kenya should adopt BFCI at a national level.

A key finding from the participatory action research was that infant feeding has not been given adequate consideration in the community strategy. Betty says by adopting lessons from Cambodia, Kenya can take BFCI seriously and ensure its immediate implementation across the country.

Betty Samburu has now developed a passion for research. She has begun writing scientific papers and hopes to further her interest in development research. APHRC offered Betty training in knowledge translation which she says has had a huge impact on her work. She believes the introduction of complementary feeding in her program can translate the MIYCN policy into practice – instead of just doing research and forming policies without action.

Betty recommends that the Kenyan government takes issues of infant feeding in the community seriously, because it is the core of the child survival strategy. She says in Cambodia, the government has taken the lead in implementing BFCI, so Kenya should follow suit. She also wants the government to use research evidence to inform policy. Betty recognises weaknesses in engaging policy makers and wants them adequately engaged so as to support in improvement in MIYCN in Kenya. Her final recommendation is to the Ministry of Health – that they should involve other ministries in their work as many factors affect MIYCN. She points out that other issues such as sanitation, family planning and food security stood out as factors influencing MIYCN during the participatory action research. Betty would therefore recommend embracing a multi-sectoral approach in addressing issues of MIYCN.