A life-saving peanut paste for little Alfred
UNICEF and partners work around the clock to save malnourished children
Eric Alain Ategbo knows his way around the Lologo Nutrition Centre on the outskirts of Juba. As Chief of Nutrition for UNICEF South Sudan, he has been here many times, and seen countless children so weak and malnourished, they can barely keep their heads up.
This year, a staggering 1.4 million children will suffer from wasting. Deprived of a diet rich in the essential nutrients they need to grow healthy and strong, children are literally wasting away.
Stepping into the clinic, Eric bends down to speak with Jessica Lazio whose 15-month-old son Alfred is preoccupied. He glances up only briefly at Eric, then raises a precious sachet of ready-to-use therapeutic food (RUTF) to his mouth. Alfred’s chubby cheeks – a tell-tale sign of malnutrition – are soon smeared with the energy and nutrient dense paste with key micronutrients. Containing peanuts, sugar, milk powder, oil, vitamins, and minerals, it’s a winning formula for malnourished children like Alfred.
Jessica smiles at her son, before her eyes shift to sadness. Losing her husband recently to Hepatitis B, Jessica went to the market every day in search of scraps of food for her three young children, but there was never enough.
“When I used to work, I bought my son bananas and potatoes, so he was healthy. When he got very sick, I had to leave work,” says Jessica.
Alfred first contracted diarrhoea and a respiratory infection, and then started to rapidly lose weight.
“My child was coughing, was vomiting and had diarrhea. Initially he got better, but then the sickness returned,” says Jessica.
Admitted with SAM (severe acute malnutrition), Alfred was given RUTF, amoxicillin and other life-saving medications by dedicated medical professionals trained in delivering an integrated service. Every day since, little Alfred has been growing stronger and stronger.
For now, Eric breathes a sigh of relief. UNICEF procures almost 80 per cent of the world's RUTF supply, and another malnourished child has been saved. But there is little time to celebrate as 1 in 6 children under five years are acutely malnourished.
“South Sudan is a difficult place for children. There are so many challenges,” says Eric. “Challenges induced by climate shocks, floods, droughts, conflict and disease.”
As South Sudan, enters its fourth year of consecutive floods which have impacted 8 out of 10 states and obliterated crops and livelihoods, over 60% of the population are facing food insecurity. Eric stresses that it’s a race against time to get to children but as the needs continue to grow, funding is in decline.
“To continue saving lives in the next three months, we urgently need to mobilize resources for procurement, distribution and treating children. We also need to continue working at the community to prevent onset of new cases of malnutrition.”
Eric gently pats Alfred on the cheek and says “shukran”, before leaving Lologo Nutrition Centre. As children in South Sudan continue to face food insecurity and are losing the precious nutrients they need to grow due to diarrhea and pneumonia, UNICEF and partners will continue to fight for their survival.
Current life-saving supplies have been made available thanks to the generous support from the German corporation through the KFW Bank, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), and the European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO).