The Nutrition Friendly Schools Initiative (NFSI) is helping to improve girls’ education in the Ashanti region.

Together with the Girls Iron-Folate Tablet Supplementation (GIFTS) Program, participating schools are reporting low absenteeism, increased academic results, and general health.

The program is a collaboration between the Ghana Health Service and Ghana Education Service, and sponsored by UNICEF.

“The overall objective of the nutrition-friendly school program is to raise awareness and create an enabling environment to improve the nutrition of school-aged children from 5-14years,” Regional Nutrition officer, Olivia Timpo says.

Health inspection days, weekly physical activity, weekly girls’ iron folic acid tablet supplementation, Vitamin A supplementation are part of the minimum package offered.

All these work synergies aim to ensure school-aged children and adolescents do not suffer any form of malnutrition.

“With the girls’ weekly iron folic acid supplementation, we ensure that adolescents receive a tablet of iron and folic acid, once a week. We usually use Wednesdays and so the girls in the schools are given these tablets as we saw being demonstrated in the schools visited”. She adds

Teachers in schools serve as examples, they first take the tablets and encourage the girls to do the same.

“In some communities where we had resistance we realised that we have broken barriers as we have seen in the Islamic school we visited. The male teachers are even advocating to be given some of the tablets.”

Headmistress of Akrofrom D/A primary, Awudu Safura says while the implementation of the program was tough, things have changed for good.

There is also a requirement for students to send food to school on Wednesdays in order to observe fruit days. The GIFTS program has helped reduce incidents of children sleeping in class while lessons are on-going.

District Director of Health, for Afigya Kwabre South, Christian Kontoh says the menstrual cycle of girls has improved.

“Their performances have improved by taking the IFA drugs. Girls who complained of 2-day menstrual flow have improved to an appreciable extent. Some now menstruate 5 days while others 7 days.”

Addo Zakiya for instance used to have her menstruation for only 2 days but this has changed.

“I used to menstruate for 2 days every month but now I menstruate for 7 days. I don’t experience cramps and pains again.”

Her eating habits, like every other Akrofrom D/A JHS student has also improved.

Zakiya wants girls of her age to take the program seriously.

Other girls like Abigail Acheampong, and Naa Dede Titiaka Yasmin attest the IFA tablet is good for their health.

Regional Nutrition Officer, Madam Olivia Timpo says there are many success stories to tell.

“Even the colouration of the flow was not as expected, that is bright red, but with the intake of the tablets it has improved.”

Madam Timpo says attendance in some schools has gone up because of the program.

“Some schools increased from 150 students to about 400 students. The fruit days are  so exciting for the children so much so that Wednesdays are days that schools experience high attendance. Parents are willing to provide the fruits for their wards to bring to school and in some schools we see very great commitment even on the side of the teachers as well.”

According to the Regional nutrition officer, the initiative which aims at curving ill health is a catalyst to curb school dropout among girls.

“Our girls are enthusiastic about it and we want to improve their attendance in school,” she said.

The nutrition-friendly initiative is an intervention that aims to also promote a green environment.

“Looking at the green environment in schools, the places used to be dried, no grasses, flowers, and the trees were all growing wild, but you can see how beautiful the environment is now even though we are not on the rainy season.”

School children are expected to learn and integrate these healthy habits in their lives to prevent health conditions like anaemia.

Madam Timpo calls on other schools to emulate the nutrition-friendly school initiative.

A total of 55 schools are implementing the NFSI program and over 4,300 students are benefiting from the GIFTS program.