As his wife Kafiyo watches, Abdullahi measures his son Khalid's mid-upper arm circumference to check his nutrition status.

Wives Teach Their Husbands How to Spot Malnutrition

Trained by Action Against Hunger, mothers in Somalia are sharing what they’ve learned with their husbands – now both parents are screening their children for malnutrition at home, saving lives and time.

It’s a program known as Mother-Led MUAC: Action Against Hunger teams up with mothers to teach them how to use a simple armband to measure their children’s nutrition status. But in Elbarde, a district in Southwestern Somalia, a more accurate name for the project might be “Mother-Taught and Father-Tested” MUAC – because, more and more, wives are showing their husbands what they’ve learned, and parents across the region are putting it into practice.

With support from ECHO, Action Against Hunger has been piloting the new approach of teaching caretakers to detect malnutrition using color-coded Mid Upper Arm Circumference (MUAC) tapes. Our staff in Somalia worked with 1,500 mothers to train them to spot malnutrition in their children early, before the condition worsens. When cases are found, children are referred to health facilities run by Action Against Hunger and our partners for treatment – the earlier a case is found, the easier it is for a malnourished child to recover.

As the project was implemented, our teams started to notice that not just mothers, but fathers, too, were taking their children’s measurements to check signs of malnutrition.

“As fathers, it is our duty to know the health status of our children. I have four children under five years old, and I make it my responsibility to check all of them weekly basis,” says Abdullahi Omar, father of seven, as he proudly takes out his MUAC tape. He learned how to measure his children from his wife, Kafiyo Raage.

Abdirahman, an Action Against Hunger Community Health Worker, shows the MUAC tape.

Photo: Fardosa Hussein
for Action Against Hunger, Somalia

Kafiyo told us how her husband showed interest in the activity: “I shared with my husband what we learned during the training and he wanted to learn how to use the MUAC tape. I took him through the process and even demonstrated it to him using one of our children’s arms,” she says.

“There is a perception that it is only the mother’s responsibility to take care of the children. I believe that, for all parents, it is our sole duty to be mindful of our children’s welfare. That is what drove me to learn how to use the MUAC tape,” says Abdullahi.

With more parents – both fathers and mothers – trained to spot malnutrition early and to take their children to health centers as soon as the illness is detected, Action Against Hunger’s nutrition teams have seen improvement throughout the communities we serve in Elbarde.

“It has made our work easier, since parents take the lead in measuring their children, which helps them to quickly see the first signs of malnutrition,” says Abdirahman, an Action Against Hunger Community Health Worker. “More of them now walk to the Action Against Hunger Stabilization Center and bring their children for immediate treatment to avoid more serious cases of severe acute malnutrition.”

Abdullahi measures his one-year-old son Khalid’s arm using the MUAC band.

Photo: Fardosa Hussein
for Action Against Hunger, Somalia

Two weeks ago, during a routine check up on his children, Abdullahi noticed his one-year-old son Khalid’s arm measured in the yellow section of the MUAC band – indicating moderate acute malnutrition. He took Khalid to an Action Against Hunger center, where staff members measured his son again and confirmed that he indeed suffering from malnutrition. Khalid was then enrolled in as outpatient therapeutic program and is now receiving nutrition treatment on weekly basis.

“Before, when I suspected that one of my children was malnourished and took him to the distribution site, I waited for a long time and, most of the time, I found out that the child was fine – I wasted a lot of time waiting for confirmation,” says Abdullahi. “Now that I am actually doing the measurement, I only visit the facility when I am almost certain of his condition.”

“We are hoping to train more fathers in the community, as most of them are interested in being part of the solution in the fight against malnutrition. We are thankful for the support given to us by ECHO to facilitate the trainings on Mother-Led MUAC in Elbarde. I believe that when the whole community is involved, we are one step ahead in combating malnutrition,” says Abdirahman.

Read more about Action Against Hunger’s work to train caregivers on how to use MUAC bands and spot malnutrition in their children:


Action Against Hunger is the world’s hunger specialist and leader in a global movement that aims to end life-threatening hunger for good within our lifetimes. For 40 years, the humanitarian and development organization has been on the front lines, treating and preventing hunger across nearly 50 countries. It served more than 21 million people in 2018 alone.