Nutritional, food security, hygiene, and sanitation conditions in the fishing community of Limbe, Cameroon
by Julienne Ngo Som
The department of Fako where the fishing community of Limbe is located is one of several areas in Cameroon with important potentialities in terms of food. Thanks to its numerous natural resources, fertile soil, coastal fisheries and a dynamic population. It is in this part of the country that the National Refinery Company (SONARA) is located as well as the most important agro-industrial complex, Cameroon Development Corporation, one of whose main products is palm oil. Agricultural and fishery production is important and varied. Fruits, vegetables, tubers, and fish are available in large quantities in markets.
Objective of the study
The main objective of the study on the "Nutrition, Hygiene and Salubrity in the Fishing Communities of Limbe" is to provide basic information necessary to design efficient intervention strategies to improve the present situation.
Fifty-one households were selected in 4 fishing villages: 2 in rural areas (Wovia and Batoke) and 2 in urban areas (Dockyard and Newtown). A team of 11 investigators was formed and trained for 4 days. A total of 412 persons were studied, of whom 70% were followed to evaluate their nutritional condition.
Information (data) was collected on the following parameters:
- family size, main activity, ethnic group and religion,
- infant nutrition and birth spacing,
- households' daily food expenses,
- men and women's contribution to households' food,
- the nutritive value of different foods and the degree to which they meet the requirements,
- nutritional condition of pre-school age children (0 to 5 years), school age children, teenagers, women of child bearing age (15 to 49 years), pregnant women and child feeding women as well as adult men (over 20 years).
The haemoglobin rate was measured with a portable photometer, "Hemocue", as directed in the manufacturer's manual.
The information collected was analysed and interpreted on the basis of reference data.
Socio-Economic characteristics of Households
of the 51 surveyed, 40% live in urban areas (20% each in Newtown and Dockyard) and 60% in a rural area (29% in Wovia and 31 % in Batoke). The average size of the 51 households is 8 persons. Households of Cameroonian nationality represent 80% and foreigners 20%.
About 98% of the households are Christians. Among the persons surveyed, 14% are fishermen, 15% women fish smokers and the rest are involved in other activities.
Household Food Security and Food consumption
The staple foods are cassava, macabo and plantain. They are served with a variety of vegetable sauces, palmnut sauces or "mbanga soup", and tomato or groundnut sauces. Fish is the main source of protein. However only a small proportion of the catches (3%) is consumed by the fisherman and his family.
Generally, households have three meals: breakfast, lunch and dinner, but the quantities are small.
The average expenditure per person per day is 212 FCFA (0.40US$). On the whole, women contribute a little more to household food (53%) than men (47%). However, in urban areas, men contribute more (72%).
The foods consumed are qualitatively varied and balanced, but quantitatively they are small. The foods do not therefore meet the nutritional needs for energy, proteins and iron.
Women in the fishing communities of Limbe practice three types of child feeding: breast-feeding (8%), bottle feeding (17%) and mixed (75%). The main additional food is baby's cereal which is simple but not rich. There is no special weaning foods; after the age of 12 months, the baby shares the family food.
Nutritional condition of the different strata of the population
Of the 56 preschool age children surveyed, 41 % suffer from Protein-Energy Malnutrition (PEM) characterized by underweight: 11% severe form, 30% the light form, 13% the chronic form or slow development and 4% the acute form. PEM characterized by underweight is more spread in rural areas (48%). The district which is most affected by PEM is Wovia with 50% of underweight, 21 % of slow development and 2% of acute PEM.
Of the 84 school age children that were studied, 41 % suffer from malnutrition. However, no case of malnutrition was noted among teenagers, adult men and women, or child feeding women.
Incidence of anaemia among the different population strata is high as depicted in figure 3. It is worth noting that all the 11 pregnant women studied were anaemic, 63% of them exhibiting severe form of anaemia.
Furthermore, the incidence of anaemia among 6 months to 5 years old children is a little higher in rural areas (89%) compared to urban areas (84%). But the cases of severe anaemia are much higher in rural (63%) than urban (32%) areas.
Statistically, PEM, and malnutrition were not related to residence, food budgets or family size, in the fishing community of Limbe.
Hygiene and salubrity
Household refuse is thrown near residences. Waste waters are discharged around houses and stagnate in puddles. About 90% of houses are made of planks. Despite the availability of latrines in 84% of households, some people use the open air, rivers and beaches as restrooms. Unfortunately, about 44% of households depend on the rivers for drinking water.
Health condition in the fishing communities of Limbe is characterized by a high prevalence of malaria (32%), diarrhoea (11%), and respiratory infections. The health coverage rate is insufficient with only one health centre for 10,000 inhabitants. The area surveyed has 3 health center services, but fisherfolk households have limited access to these health services because of financial difficulties..
In order to promote food security and good hygienic practices among the households, and to improve the health and the nutritional condition of the different strata of the population in the community surveyed, emphasis should be put on the involvement of the populations concerned in community activities.
Consequently it would be necessary among others:
- to reduce family size by organising training sessions on responsible parenthood;
- to encourage the inhabitants to dig pits for their refuse and gutters for the drainage of waste/used water;
- to promote community based food and nutrition surveillance to fight against bad infant nutrition practices and promote breast feeding, appropriate weaning practices, as well as, the rational use of available food;
- to encourage the population to eat more leafy vegetables and beans which are rich in iron;
- to organize periodical campaigns to eradicate intestinal worms with a view to combat and prevent anaemia,
- to organize periodical sensitization campaigns on the eradication of diarrhoeic-diseases and malaria.