Tackling Child Hunger in the World’s Newest Nation
Last week, on the one year anniversary of South Sudan’s independence from Sudan, we reported on the extremely alarming malnutrition rates present in border areas of the country. Today, as we continue to shed light on the hard but hopeful realities faced by the people of South Sudan, we share two stories that reveal their struggles and illuminate their possibilities.
In her voice: Martha Nakakande, Nutrition Program Manager, ACF-South Sudan
Martha Nakakande is a nutrition program manager for Action Against Hunger in Warrap, South Sudan. In a country reeling from 25 years of civil war and where one child in every eight dies from malnutrition before the age of five, our teams are working tirelessly to treat children and prevent malnutrition from happening in the first place. Here Martha describes some of the challenges facing her team in South Sudan.
South Sudan is grappling with all the trials of a new country, with the added burden of a struggling economy and poor relations with neighboring Sudan. People are living with the effects of conflict, and there are no proper systems in place, so families cannot access food, shelter or clean water.
When our teams visit rural villages we leave the office early because some are very far away and the roads are bad, especially during the rainy season. In the villages I meet lots of children and there are many who walk for more than two hours to get to our nutrition centers.
It is always disheartening to see a malnourished child and it is even worse when the people looking after them are malnourished themselves. I remember one mother who brought her baby to one of our centers. It was very sad as the mother was mentally ill and was unable to look after her child, who was suffering from malnutrition. They received rations of therapeutic foods and attended follow-up sessions every week, but we saw no improvement in the baby’s condition.
“Our teams in South Sudan are doing their best to help improve the lives of children and their families and we will continue to do so for as long as it takes.”
—--Martha Nakakande, Nutrition Program Manager, ACF-South Sudan
With a lot of support from the team the child slowly began to get better. He received rations of therapeutic foods and attended follow-up sessions every week and with a lot of support from our team the child slowly began to get better. When the little boy looks into my eyes I can see his determination to hang on. It can’t help but make your heart melt and it is always the hardest part of my job.
Being in a remote area, we face many challenges, including accessing some communities as many roads are impossible to travel along. As a young country, there are few market systems in place and goods have to be bought from neighboring countries. Because of this we sometimes run short of supplies, which can be very stressful for the whole team, as we need supplies to do our job and treat children.
Sometimes I can get frustrated. When people are suffering, it stays with you. But then at other times communities and children help to lift my spirits. Living in South Sudan has made me appreciate the things I always took for granted.
In 2011 our teams in South Sudan treated almost 23,000 children suffering from malnutrition and we are continuing to strengthen families’ capacities to prevent malnutrition. I am very proud of the work we do.
Yet, there is still much more to be done in South Sudan. Tensions along the north border are resulting in violence and 350,000 people have abandoned their crops and fled their homes. People are dependent on aid and meager farming, which is never enough. This creates a cycle of continued poverty and with many aggravating factors, malnutrition continues to increase. Our teams in South Sudan are doing their best to help improve the lives of children and their families and we will continue to do so for as long as it takes.
In her voice: Achol Adol, mother of two, Wunrok, South Sudan
My name is Achol Adol and I live in a village called Wunrok in South Sudan. I have two daughters to take care of while their father is working in Sudan. In late July 2011, one of my children, Akot, had several days of fever, diarrhea and coughing and she lost weight rapidly. She also had difficulty breathing. The first thing I did was to take her to a traditional healer who gave her local medicines, but her health and physical appearance continued to decline. So I took her to a private clinic. When the situation continued to get worse, the health worker in the clinic referred her to an ACF nutrition facility. I took Akot to the ACF inpatient center in Wunrok on July 24, 2011. Wunrok is near the disputed Abyei territory and is an area affected by conflict, displacements and natural disasters like flooding.
“I am very thankful to the staff at the nutrition center that welcomed me, took good care of my child, and gave us food and a place to sleep.”
—--Achol Adol, mother of ACF patient Akot Adol, South Sudan
At the ACF center, my daughter was assessed for malnutrition and her medical history was reviewed. Akot was found to be severely malnourished with a weight of only 6.8 pounds at 13 months old. She also had a number of medical complications including diarrhea, coughing, ongoing vomiting, bronchial pneumonia and severe dehydration. Akot was immediately started on treatment with a special milk formula (F75) and the necessary antibiotics for her health complications. She was closely monitored day and night by ACF staff until her situation stabilized.
During that time I was very worried and scared for my child. However, I am very thankful to the staff at the nutrition center that welcomed me, took good care of my child, and gave us food and a place to sleep. While at the center I attended health education sessions every day and learned about child care practices. I learned from ACF about breastfeeding, good hygiene and more, and I shared this experience with other mothers at the center. When discharged after 39 days of treatment, Akot weighed 14 pounds and had fully recovered from the health complications. She then continued receiving care through ACF’s outpatient therapeutic program where she received Plumpy’nut and weekly follow-up visits.
Tell Us What You Think
What do you see as the hardest part of the job for someone like Martha Nakakande? The most rewarding?