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Malawi ranks among the poorest countries in the world, while also being one of the most densely populated nations in Africa. As a result, nearly half of all children under age 5 are “stunted,” meaning they’re abnormally short for their age because of malnutrition. Further complicating matters is the fact that nearly a quarter of the country’s population must walk more than 5 miles to access a health clinic.

Credit: Leslie Tuttle/Partners In Health

Building local capacity to address the root causes of malnutrition in Neno—a hard-to-reach rural district in the southwest part of Malawi—has been a central focus of Partners In Health and its Malawian sister organization Abwenzi Pa Za Umoyo (PIH/APZU). In 2011, we opened a Nutritional Rehabilitation Unit, the first such facility in Neno, to treat severely malnourished children. During the first half of 2012, PIH/APZU achieved 95 to 100 percent cure rates among children in various stages of malnourishment.

Credit: Victoria Smith/Partners In Health 

But building on our early successes and ensuring that we’re reaching as many children in Neno as possible requires innovative approaches. That’s why PIH/APZU recently collaborated with its partner TOMS to pilot a first-of-its-kind program intended to weave the distribution of new TOMS Shoes with malnutrition screenings. In the past, PIH/APZU and TOMS have partnered on a number of successful shoe distribution programs at schools. But this time we tried something different.

Credit: Victoria Smith/Partners In Health

The idea is simple: PIH/APZU staff traveled to nearby schools and screened children for malnutrition by measuring their height, taking their weight, and gathering information on other markers that may indicate a child is in need of care. Children also had their feet measured during the screening. After the screening was complete, APZU staff gave each child a new pair of TOMS Shoes.

Credit: Victoria Smith/Partners In Health

By integrating the health service with free shoe distribution, we’ve already screened more than 1,000 children and identified 70 kids in need of treatment. Similar programs are scheduled to take place in the coming months throughout Neno. All of the children who participate will leave with new shoes to help make their walk home a bit more comfortable.

Credit: Victoria Smith/Partners In Health

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