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South Sudanese working mothers worry they can put their children at risk with COVID-19

Esther Julius is barely a year old but she has to deal with disability and malnutrition. She cannot walk or even sit. Her mother Agnes David says, “My daughter was on treatment since birth for her condition until my breastmilk stopped for reasons I do not know. My money was spent going to the hospital and her medicines. During this period she became malnourished.”

Agnes took Esther to the primary health clinic that World Vision supports in Juba, South Sudan’s capital upon learning that her neighbor’s children recovered from malnutrition. But it occurred to her that traveling to the clinic for the weekly visits can put her and the baby in danger. Agnes adds, “I am hopeful my girl will be fine because I have seen many children recover from malnutrition. But my only worry is on COVID-19 infecting me as I try to earn money for her needs. I can put her at risk of getting infected, too.”

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World Vision's nutrition team led by Nutrition Coordinator Komakech Ronald (right) and Nutrition Assistant Ngong Deng Yel share the prevention measures on COVID-19 with the mothers.

 

Another mother Julia Dudu is equally worried. Her husband’s daily-paid job has stopped leading to insufficient food for the family. Her supply of breastmilk was also affected and at the same time, she cannot provide nutritious food to her twins. Their condition started to get worse as the couple struggle with the needs of the family.

At the Gurei Primary Health Care Center, Julia’s 9-months old twins Farida Muyu and Rhoda Gire were both found suffering from acute malnutrition. Farida has severe acute malnutrition with a mid-upper arm circumference (MUAC) measurement of 11.0 cm, while Rhoda has moderate acute malnutrition with a MUAC of 11.7 cm. “My breastmilk was affected because I cannot provide proper nutrition to myself”, Julia shares sadly.

They need to earn money to provide sufficient food that meets the minimum adequate diet for their children but this can also expose them to coronavirus. This is a very difficult dilemma and many of them have no option but venture and do odd jobs.

Julia’s husband is a hardworking man and has done his best to provide for their needs especially food. Losing his job made the family desperate. “We used to have two meals per day at least. But due to COVID-19, the work stopped. Now, we can hardly have one meal per day. I am not sure what will happen to my children in the coming days if this disease continues”, she adds.

Meanwhile, 20-year-old Linda Salvatoria was excited that her son Deng Awer is fast recovering from malnutrition. “I thought I would lose my son but I thank God for helping me connect with World Vision’s team at the center who stood by my son and me”, says Linda.

Related story: Tough road ahead for young orphans battling malnutrition and COVID-19

Agnes David and daughter Esther Julius at the nutrition center. Agnes is worried that going out to earn income for her baby's needs can also put her at risk.

 

With the support of 127 community nutrition volunteers in Juba, World Vision’s campaign against malnutrition has now included the fight to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in South Sudan. The nutrition team distributes handwashing soaps to mothers and educates them on the prevention measures at the centers to keep them safe and their children safe.

Julia did not hide her excitement after receiving her supply of soap “I do not have to worry about buying soap for handwashing because World Vision provides me anytime I go to the center for the twins’ follow-up check”, she expresses. World Vision is supported by UNICEF and the World Food Programme (WFP), in collaboration with the South Sudan Ministry of Health (MOH) in providing services to help combat acute malnutrition in the communities.

Related story: Mothers race against malnutrition and COVID-19

Komakech Ronald nutrition coordinator checks on 20-year-old Linda Salvatoria's son Deng Awer. Linda was happy her son is recovering fast from malnutrition.

 

Rahab Kimani, World Vision’s Nutrition Manager, said that dealing with COVID-19 in Juba is increasingly becoming very challenging for mothers. “They need to earn money to provide sufficient food that meets the minimum adequate diet for their children but this can also expose them to coronavirus. This is a very difficult dilemma and many of them have no option but venture and do odd jobs.”

She adds, “As a mother myself, I feel sad about this situation for the South Sudanese women. The only way we can help in World Vision is to continue providing them with necessary support especially for the malnourished children to ease their burden and keep the children healthy.”

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Julia Dudu and her twins Farida and Rhoda who are both showing positive improvement with their weekly visits at the nutrition center. But she is worried that COVID-19 can threaten their recovery.

 

Story and photos by Scovia Faida Charles Duku, Communications Officer