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Positive Deviance: Vietnam

Positive Deviance: Vietnam

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The first successful large-scale field application of PD was initiated in Vietnam in early 1991 to address the problem of childhood malnutrition. Over the following decade, the PD approach to nutrition became a national model and today reaches a population of 2.2 million inhabitants in 250 Vietnamese communities. The program has sustainably rehabilitated an estimated 50,000 malnourished children under the age of 5. Of even greater significance, their younger siblings, many of whom were not yet born at the time of the nutrition program implementation, are benefiting from the same levels of enhanced nutritional status. Simply stated, positive deviance provided a tool for radically altering the conventional wisdom regarding child nutrition and caring practices in these communities.
The first successful large-scale field application of PD was initiated in Vietnam in early 1991 to address the problem of childhood malnutrition. Over the following decade, the PD approach to nutrition became a national model and today reaches a population of 2.2 million inhabitants in 250 Vietnamese communities. The program has sustainably rehabilitated an estimated 50,000 malnourished children under the age of 5. Of even greater significance, their younger siblings, many of whom were not yet born at the time of the nutrition program implementation, are benefiting from the same levels of enhanced nutritional status. Simply stated, positive deviance provided a tool for radically altering the conventional wisdom regarding child nutrition and caring practices in these communities.

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Published by: posdevnet on May 09, 2008
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02/01/2013

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Positive Deviance and Nutrition in Viet Nam

The first successful large-scale field application of PD was initiated in Vietnam in early
1991 to address the problem of childhood malnutrition. Over the following decade, the
PD approach to nutrition became a national model and today reaches a population of 2.2
million inhabitants in 250 Vietnamese communities. The program has sustainably
rehabilitated an estimated 50,000 malnourished children under the age of 5. Of even
greater significance, their younger siblings, many of whom were not yet born at the time
of the nutrition program implementation, are benefiting from the same levels of enhanced
nutritional status. Simply stated, positive deviance provided a tool for radically altering
the conventional wisdom regarding child nutrition and caring practices in these
communities.

In 1990 Save the Children (US) had received an unprecedented invitation from the Government of Vietnam to create a program to enable poor villages to address the pervasive problem of childhood malnutrition. At that time an estimated of 60% of children under the age of 5 suffered from moderate or severe malnutrition.

It was clear to the Government of Vietnam that traditional supplemental feeding
programs being implemented in the country were providing temporary solutions at best,
and were demonstrably unsustainable. Although there were significant gains in children\u2019s
nutritional status during the period of program implementation, they were all but lost
after the programs ended.

The reasons for failure were not difficult to discern; a) villagers were passive program
\u201cbeneficiaries\u201d who were neither encouraged nor required to change any of the
underlying behaviors/practices which led to their children\u2019s malnutrition, b) the
nutritional gains which were realized during program implementation were based entirely
on external food resources which were no longer accessible to villagers once the
implementing agency departed, c) the major focus of the program was on providing
additional food, with little or no attention paid to improving the all-important child
caring, and health seeking behaviors associated with good nutritional status. In short,
\u201cthey came, they fed, they left\u201d and nothing changed.

Despite the high prevalence of malnutrition, SC observed that a small minority of poor
families had children who were well nourished. SC centered its \u201cpositive deviant\u201d (PD)
approach on these resilient children. Strategically, a PD study asks the question: how do
poor families have well nourished children when their neighbors with similar resource
constraints do not? In other words, what is their \u201cdeviant\u201d behavior? Through a PD
inquiry, such \u201cdeviant\u201d behaviors were identified. These households were feeding their
children free or inexpensive tiny shrimps and crabs found in rice paddies (not
traditionally fed to small children) plus sweet potato greens and were feeding their
children more frequently during the day. Building on this indigenous wisdom, SC created
a PD Nutrition Education and Rehabilitation Program (NERP) to enable villagers to take
responsibility for their own nutritional development. Through this PD approach, villagers

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