Promoting Healthy Nutrition Behaviors Through Community Mobilization in Rural Nigeria


Muhammed Bello is a 46-year-old herder living in Bauchi State in Nigeria. In 2020, he and his wife, Hadiza, lost their child, Isah, due to malnutrition. Hadiza stopped breastfeeding Isah when he was seven months old because she had become pregnant again. Isah’s parents, like many parents in rural Nigeria, believed that when a woman gets pregnant while nursing a toddler, her breast milk belongs to the child in the womb.

While a baby older than six months is ready for other foods, breastmilk is still vital to their overall nutrition needs. Breast milk is easy to use and digest, and it contains the nutrients infants continue to need to grow and stay healthy. When a baby turns six months old, complementary foods—in addition to breast milk—are necessary to meet their needs. The World Health Organization recommends continued breastfeeding until at least two years, as studies show that children still get half of the nutrients they need to grow and play from breast milk between the ages of six and 12 months and one-third between 12 and 24 months.

With the complete removal of breastmilk, Isah soon became sick, which led to a series of illnesses. Though his parents did all they could to save Isah’s life, including going to a health facility 30 kilometers away, he did not survive.

“I took him to the hospital in Gar and the big one in Alkaleri many times with no improvement. They finally referred me to Kirfi, a community management of acute malnutrition site, where he was given therapeutic food. I had to go there every two weeks to collect it for him. Even at that, the boy died.”
— Muhammed Bello, father

The loss was devastating to Muhammed Bello.

The USAID-funded Breakthrough ACTION-Nigeria project works with households and communities to address the factors that contribute to nutrition and overall health. Breakthrough ACTION-Nigeria carries out different interventions that create awareness about healthy behaviors that will result in improved maternal and child health. This includes exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of a child’s life and adding enough diverse and nutritious foods to breastfeeding once a child turns six months.

Just before Isah died, Muhammed attended a community health dialogue where he met Yakubu, a Breakthrough ACTION-Nigeria-trained community volunteer. Yakubu was sharing information about the different ways community members can improve the health of mothers, children, and newborns, the role breastfeeding and good nutrition play, and the importance of going to the health facility when someone is sick. One reason Muhammed took his sick child to the health facility was because the volunteer explained the importance of seeking health services from qualified personnel in health facilities.

Hadiza and her son, Sani, in their compound in Alkaleri Local Government Area of Bauchi State. Photo credit: Nura Bashir Faggo, Program Officer, Social and Behavior Change, Breakthrough ACTION-Nigeria

Muhammed and Hadiza welcomed their new baby, Sani, in July 2021. With the memory of their loss still fresh in their hearts, Muhammed and Hadiza decided to practice exclusive breastfeeding and childbirth spacing guided by the knowledge they gained from their interaction with the community volunteer. This family now practices four other healthy behaviors they learned from Yakubu: childbirth spacing, homestead gardening to improve their nutritional options, ensuring complete immunization based on the child’s age, and sleeping under insecticide-treated nets.

Sani is growing every day. He is an active child crawling around and always seeking his father. His parents happily share that Sani has never been sick. Every day, the efforts of community volunteers trained by Breakthrough ACTION Nigeria have a positive impact on the lives of families, improving their overall health and well-being.

“I am ever grateful to Yakubu and the people that sent him to us. You can see that boy [Sani] is very healthy. The mother and I are all very happy, and she will not be pregnant again until another two years and after he is weaned.”
— Muhammed Bello

Written by: Ramatu Ada Ochekliye, Program Officer II, Breakthrough ACTION; Nura Bashir Faggo, Program Officer I, Breakthrough ACTION; Emelda Musa; and Usman Inuwa, Senior Program Officer II, Breakthrough ACTION