Childhood undernutrition is a common problem in Malawi, and usually develops early in life. By the age of two years, 30-50% of all children in rural areas are undernourished; predisposing them to subsequent morbidity, developmental delay and mortality. Mild and moderate undernutrition are the most common forms. In order to plan community-based interventions to assist such children, information is needed on parental identification of undernourished children and their subsequent health-seeking behavior.
This study was conducted around Lungwena and Malindi in a rural part of southern Malawi. The study included in-depth interviews with 37 key informants, such as herbalists, traditional birth attendants, and mothers of children admitted to a nutrition rehabilitation unit. Findings from key informant interviews were confirmed and enlarged upon by 18 focus group discussions with mothers, fathers and grandmothers of children less than five years old. Data was obtained on the following issues: local concepts and definitions of child nutrition and undernutrition; signs parents use to identify undernourished children; who is involved in decision-making about health-seeking for undernourished children; and where, with whom and what types of care are sought.