Faculty of Medicine

Canada-Led Effort on Maternal and Child Nutrition Receives Partnership Award

Apr 23, 2019
Jim Oldfield

A global collaboration that includes the University of Toronto and spans dozens of organizations working toward better nutrition and health for women and children has been honoured with a Canadian partnership award.

Enhancing Nutrition Services to Improve Maternal and Child Health (ENRICH) is a five-year project funded by $47 million from the Government of Canada, and which aims to improve health and nutrition in Asia and Africa.

The project launched in 2016 and was recently honoured by the Canadian Partnership for Women and Children’s Health with a 2019 Award of Excellence in Global Women and Children’s Health.

“I’m honored and inspired to be part of this partnership award, which reflects the strength of our collective efforts with partners in Canada and overseas,” says Dr. Khadija Begum, a research associate at U of T’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health who is the ENRICH research coordinator for evaluation. “It’s also an opportunity to express our gratitude to all those who advocate for maternal and child nutrition and health, and for the empowerment of women.”

World Vision Canada leads ENRICH in partnership with U of T, Nutrition International, HarvestPlus and the Canadian Society for International Health, which together work with national and local groups in Bangladesh, Myanmar, Kenya and Tanzania. 

The project seeks to improve maternal and child health in those countries by strengthening health systems and focusing on nutrition during the first 1,000 days from conception to age two, and by facilitating effective policies and programs.

To date, the program has trained almost 3,000 front-line and community health workers, helped more than 6,000 farmers to produce biofortified crops and facilitated over 1,000 community meetings to monitor nutrition services relative to availability, quality and gender-responsiveness.

Professor Daniel Sellen leads U of T’s involvement in ENRICH, which has included a 2016 baseline assessment and is now focused on mid-term evaluation of intended benefits through metrics such as maternal decision-making, knowledge and diet, pre- and post-natal care, breast and complementary feeding practices, child nutritional status and reduced pre-school deaths.

“We’ve generated rich data on key nutrition and health indicators through household surveys and health facility assessments, working closely with our global, national and community partners,” says Sellen, the director of the Joannah & Brian Lawson Centre for Child Nutrition and a distinguished professor of anthropology and global health at U of T. “Our ongoing analysis of this data will help assess and inform ENRICH program delivery and should enable even more effective interventions and capacity-building in future, in areas and populations with the highest need.”

Sellen says the skills and experience of data collection teams based in the target countries have been key to ensuring the information generated through ENRICH is high-quality and vast in scale. Sellen and ENRICH collaborators have forged partnerships with Agha Khan University, BRAC University, Egerton University and Ifakara Health Research Institute to enable data collection in difficult local conditions, which can include flooding, impassable roads and communications challenges.

An over-riding goal of ENRICH is to reduce child and maternal mortality through simple and often inexpensive interventions such as regular pre-natal health visits, routine immunization, sustainable local agriculture and micronutrient powders added to foods.

The ENRICH team is enabling and monitoring these interventions in the four target countries, which together with Pakistan (where the program closed in 2018) comprise 13 per cent of the world’s children under age five who live with stunting from poor nutrition — despite having less than seven per cent of the global population.

The ENRICH researchers plan to share results from their mid-term analyses of the project later this year.

(Photo courtesy of Canadian Partnership for Women and Children's Health. Left to right: Allison Verney, technical advisor - ENRICH, Nutrition International; Anna-Marie Ball, chief of staff and director of external affairs, Harvest Plus; Eva Slawecki, executive director, Canadian Society for International Health; Professor Dan Sellen, principal investigator, ENRICH program evaluation; Dr. Asrat Dibaba, chief of party - ENRICH program, World Vision Canada.)

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