Afghanistan: A conversation with Lalma

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Medair has been teaching mothers in Afghanistan how to determine whether their young children are malnourished.

Women are given instruction for using a mid-upper arm circumference (MUAC) tape. This is a small measuring tool that indicates if a person is malnourished or not. By providing training and distribution of these tapes, the risk of transmission of COVID-19 is decreased, as screening can be done in the home by a child’s mother rather than by our nutrition team during house-to-house visits.

Lalma*, who lives in southern Afghanistan, is a mother of 5 children, including 17 -month-old Diwa. She has received training on how to use a MUAC tape. She tells us how this has helped her and other mothers in her community.

You have a measuring tape with you. What do you use it for?

Lalma: This tape was given to me by Medair’s nutrition team. It allows us to check if our children are malnourished and if so, to receive treatment. With it, I am able to check the progress of my daughter, Diwa, who is undergoing treatment with Medair.


Could you show us how you measure your daughter’s arm?

Lalma: You can see, as I measure her arm, that the colour of the tape is red. That means she is too thin, she needs food – she needs treatment.

Lalma measures her daughter’s arm © Medair


What do these colours mean?

Lalma: Many mothers have received their MUAC tape and training. Now, they can assess their children themselves. They have been taught that the ‘green’ colour means the child does not need supplementary feeding and they are healthy. They have also received advice from Medair, on the importance of hygiene, cleanliness, breastfeeding, and coronavirus prevention.

If the tape shows “yellow” or “red”, that means a child is malnourished. Mothers then know that their children are too thin, that they need to be taken to Medair’s clinic to receive supplementary feeding. If they don’t, their condition will likely get worse, they will be more likely to get diseases or even die.

Today, I came with Warda and her grandmother as Warda was “red” when we measured her. Now, she will receive treatment.

Warda receives supplementary feeding from her grandmother, provided by Medair’s nutrition team. © Medair 


We are so grateful for your efforts, Lalma. Medair’s mobile clinic is here to support your village and provide children like Diwa and Warda the care they urgently need. Today, you will receive another MUAC measuring tape – this one is designed to check on women’s nutritional status, just like you have been doing with your children. Our nutrition team will teach you how to do this. Once again, we thank you for your support and for taking the time to answer our questions today.

Lalma: I also want to thank you, for all your services which help us learn important things about maintaining our health. A family who lives next door to me recently received a hygiene home kit from your team: they were so happy! We are grateful for your help.



In Afghanistan, 41% of children under 5 are stunted* – one of the world’s highest rates – and 25 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces in 2019 were above the emergency threshold for acute malnutrition.**

All this was occurring even before the country was hit by the coronavirus.

Across the country, our teams are hard at work to provide mothers and children in remote communities with what they need to stay healthy, despite the pandemic.

At the beginning of 2020, we were already looking at a very complex response: there are so many simultaneous issues in Afghanistan causing overwhelming need. COVID-19 has presented us with new and unique challenges, and we already know that the impact will continue to be felt well into next year. 2021 will likely be a critical year for the Afghan people, as they battle the economic impact of COVID-19 on top of existing hardships and insecurity; these challenges disproportionately impact children and mothers, who are amongst the most vulnerable. Our help is needed now, perhaps more than ever.

Anna Coffin

Head of Medair’s Afghanistan Programme

Medair is battling the Hunger crisis in some of the world’s most difficult places.

 *All names have been changed for security purposes.

 This interview has been edited and condensed.


Medair is an international humanitarian NGO that provides emergency relief and recovery services to families made vulnerable by natural disasters, conflicts, and other crises.

This content was produced with resources gathered by Medair field and Global Support Office staff. The views expressed herein are those solely of Medair and should not be taken, in any way, to reflect the official opinion of any other organisation.



** UNICEF Afghanistan Humanitarian Situation Report (1 January – 31 December 2019)