Angelina, a 20-year old mother, has brought her 8-months old son Torjok in World Vision’s nutrition centre in Kator over a week ago. The baby was suffering from severe acute malnutrition and was also sick of pneumonia. After the screening and found to have medical complications, the child was referred for inpatient care treatment after which the mother brought him to the Out-Patient Therapeutic Program (OTP) site in Kator to continue nutrition treatment.
When Nutrition Manager Damaris Wanjiku met Angelina and Torjok, the baby has not yet fully recovered from his critical condition. “He has not gained weight yet. He needs more follow-ups”, she says worried as she touched the baby’s feverish cheek as she reminded one of the nutrition monitors to make sure Angelina will not miss the weekly check-up.
A staunch nutrition advocate who has been working in South Sudan for nine years, Wanjiku adds, “As a woman, looking at these malnutrition cases is heartbreaking. But I always find my job fulfilling especially when we are able to help a child recover from malnutrition.”
A United Nations (UN) report estimates that over 1.1 million South Sudanese children under the age of five are acutely malnourished. Malnutrition in many parts of the country has worsened compared to last year and contributing factors identified include “high levels of food insecurity, widespread conflict, population displacement, poor access to services, high morbidity, poor diet (quality and quantity), low coverage of sanitation facilities and poor hygiene practices”.
Wanjiku admits the journey is still long. She says, “World Vision partners with the Ministry of Health, Unicef and the World Food Programme (WF) to be able to provide an integrated support. But educating the mothers about nutrition and caring for their children is key to a lasting solution.” She cited that young mothers like Angelina need more guidance and support in caring for their children.
She says, “Many of these mothers, for lack of other sources, often share what they get from the centre to their other children. This compromises the program for a child and put him or her at risk.” .The programme staff continuously remind mothers that the supply is a medicine for the malnourished child, hence should not be shared, but due to food insecurity in many households, the practice still happens.
The nutrition activities are all strategically conducted at the primary health care centres to ensure that the children get the treatment and care they need. Apart from the nutrition education sessions given to mothers at nutrition centres, World Vision has a weekly radio program that broadcasts nutrition and hygiene tips, information and updates. The taped broadcasts are also played at the centres for the mothers while waiting for their turn in the screening and check-up.
The nutrition gardening program was activated where women are trained on vegetable growing and provided with seeds to plant. Fifteen groups, composed of 168 mothers attended the training led by the Food Security and Livelihood team. Wanjiku emphasized the importance of the program saying, “They cannot survive only on what we are providing them. They need to be supplemented by food grown from their own backyards.” The health centre officials allocated a vacant space for gardening demonstrations.