Zambian children playing in playpen

Almost one-third of babies born in sub-Saharan Africa suffer from malnutrition with lasting cognitive and developmental impacts. One definite reason is not enough nutrient-rich food. Another likely reason is the proximity of families to their livestock. 

Playing Safe: Better Nutrition for Babies in Zambia

May 17, 2016

Zambian children playing in playpen

Almost one-third of babies born in sub-Saharan Africa suffer from malnutrition with lasting cognitive and developmental impacts. One definite reason is not enough nutrient-rich food. Another likely reason is the proximity of families to their livestock. When crawling babies encounter family chickens, for example, bacteria in the animals' manure can cause intestinal damage that exacerbates childhood malnutrition.

External view of playpenExternal view of play shelter.

Creating clean, uncontaminated play areas is easier said than done for mothers tending to chores and children. A team of Atkinson Center researchers led by Rebecca Stoltzfus and colleagues at CARE worked with families in Zambia to build inexpensive, clean play spaces made from readily available local materials. The team also tested educational approaches to raise parents’ awareness.

The results were so promising that the CARE-Cornell Baby WASH education module is now in active use in a four-country CARE nutrition program. The researchers are currently assessing women’s labor patterns to understand how to promote the healthy play spaces for babies without placing new burdens on busy moms' time.