Good Health from the Beginning

Dr. Lama Mattar joins forces with UNICEF and the Ministry of Public Health on a community-based intervention project.

By Hanan Nasser

Dr. Mattar specializes in community nutrition, which is related to food security, disease prevention, maternal and child health and mortality.

Assistant Professor of Nutrition Lama Mattar has received a $44,000 grant from UNICEF for a community-based intervention project related to maternal and child nutrition and immunization practices in primary healthcare centers (PHCs) across Lebanon. 

The project is a first-of-its-kind collaboration between LAU, UNICEF and the Ministry of Public Health (MoPH), which will together develop and implement interventions on infant and young child feeding practices (IYCF), immunization and oral health in PHCs.

Dr. Mattar specializes in community nutrition, which is related to food security, disease prevention, maternal and child health and mortality. As it stands now, she said, the prevalence of exclusive breastfeeding is very low in Lebanon, with only 24 percent of infants under six months being exclusively breastfed. As for immunization, she said that there are children who are not being routinely vaccinated, and that preventable diseases are still being detected.

“Accelerating and improving interventions to support IYCF practices and child healthcare, including immunization and oral health at a community level, are a key component of child development programs,” she said.

Outreach activities are at the core of LAU’s mission, and especially so at the School of Arts and Sciences’ Nutrition Program. “Such collaborations allow the Nutrition Program to put evidence-based science into practice for the good of the community,” Dr. Mattar said.

On the pedagogical level, the program will involve nutrition students – both at the undergrad and graduate levels – who will be implementing it alongside UNICEF and MoPH, providing a unique hands-on learning opportunity. And in line with LAU’s focus on interdisciplinary learning, the project could require the involvement of students from the Social Work Program and the Alice Ramez Chagoury School of Nursing

“It will help them build solid community partnerships and develop their human capabilities to impact the health of populations,” she said.

The partners will be promoting and reinforcing the necessity of routine immunizations, exclusive breastfeeding, complementary feeding and oral health among at least 4,000 women of childbearing age and their children. They will also develop educational materials.

“We expect to start with five PHCs in Lebanon, serving 10,198 beneficiaries, including 5,308 women and 1,320 children under five,” Dr. Mattar said. 

“The process to receive the grant took three months,” she added, “with the help of our grant director, Mr. Mario Rebeiz, who made things happen and guided me throughout the process.” 

In addition to the funding, Dr. Mattar concluded, it is important for LAU to maintain a solid collaboration with UNICEF to pave the way for future projects, and to “build trust between these two major institutions to create a bigger impact on the community.”