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Malnourished children receive help at UNICEF-supported nutrition centre in North Darfur, Sudan

© UNICEF Sudan/2011/Kogali
Mahasin Ali with her sons, 1-year-old Sami and 3-year-old Suleyman, on the day of their arrival at a UNICEF-supported nutrition centre in North Darfur, Sudan.

By Issraa El-Kogali and Priyanka Khanna

EL FASHER, North Darfur State, Sudan, 18 January 2012 – Abu Badriya is a soft-spoken man with a face that lights up when he smiles. A traditional healer, or ‘faki’, by profession, he has become an unusual but important partner in the fight against child malnutrition in this part of Darfur.

He stands tall and wears his turban and ‘djallabia’ – traditional Sudanese attire – with grace. But like many here, he bears scars from the years of conflict in Darfur. A bullet wound to his right leg left him with a limp and ongoing pain.
His role as a healer means many people turn to him for help. Parents sometimes bring their sick children to him for a form of traditional healing called ‘ruqaya’.

But Mr. Badriya understands that, in many cases, especially those involving children, conventional medical treatment must be used as well.

And when it comes to dealing with malnutrition among children, he does not hesitate to refer families to the local Therapeutic Feeding Centre (TFC), which is supported by UNICEF.

© UNICEF Sudan/2011/Kogali
Abu Badriya, a traditional healer, near a UNICEF-supported nutrition centre in North Darfur.

Needing urgent treatment

That was what Mr. Badriya did when Mahasin Ali, a recent returnee from Libya, came to see him about her two boys, 3-year-old Suleyman and 1-year-old Sami.

Though the boys were visibly undernourished, the hospital in El Fasher had not admitted them, saying that they only needed time to adjust to the changes in environment and food. A nurse had also suggested that the prayers of a faki would soothe the children and help settle them into their new lives in Darfur.
But when he saw the boys, Mr. Badriya knew immediately that they needed urgent treatment.
“I could see how weak and thin they were,” he recalled. “I realized that unless they were treated quickly, their lives would be in danger.”

As soon as they arrived at the TFC, the children were admitted and put on a milk formula that is easily digested. After that, they were fed a specially formulated peanut paste, known as Plumpy’Nut, which contains all the essential vitamins and nutrients the boys needed to recover. After just four days of treatment, Suleyman’s and Sami’s health had improved dramatically.

© UNICEF Sudan/2011/Kogali
Mahasin Ali sits with her sons on their fourth day of treatment at a UNICEF-supported nutrition centre in North Darfur, Sudan.

Ensuring no child is missed

For Susan Lillicrap, UNICEF’s head of nutrition in Sudan, this story is a lesson about the important role the community plays in ensuring no child is missed.

“The sooner you get to a child, the better the results. And in a long-standing conflict-affected place like Darfur, one day late could be too late,” she said.

Still, malnutrition remains a major problem. Nearly 32 per cent of children under age 5 in North Darfur suffer from global chronic malnutrition.

“We are working with a wide range of partners. Mothers-in-laws, fakis, and religious leaders and anyone who has a say in society is our ally,” said Ms. Lillicrap. “Ensuring a healthy start in life for every child can break the cycle of poverty. And people like Abu Badriya are helping us do just that.”



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