With rising costs and reducing food security mothers battle to keep their children well nourished

In the heart of one of South Sudan’s POC camps a mother of eight with triplet babies relies on UNICEF services for keeping them healthy and thriving

By James Maiden
Family with young children
UNICEF South Sudan/James Maiden
09 June 2022

When 35 year-old, Vivian received the ultrasound for her sixth pregnancy in a clinic inside the Malakal Protection of Civilians  (POC) camp in the Northern part of South Sudan, she was surprised when they told her she was having twins. When she gave birth in July 2021, Vivian and her whole community were even more shocked when three babies were born safely and in good health.

“It was a gift from God when I had triplets,” she said. “There are two girls and a boy. Their names are Achan, Angar and Abraham and they are very easy babies.”

A woman feeds a young child
UNICEF South Sudan/James Maiden
Eleven-month-old Achan receives Plumpynut to treat her for severe wasting

But Vivian and her husband survive on odd jobs and humanitarian support. Her husband does  construction jobs in the camp – and they find it more and more difficult to keep their eight children healthy and thriving. Food rations from WFP are reducing and two of the triplets have been diagnosed with acute malnutrition.

After Angar was treated for moderate wasting, a type of malnutrition putting children at high risk of dying, her sister, Achan was screened and found to be severely wasted. Both have been suffering from diarrhea. Practitioners at the UNICEF supported Nutrition Center in the POC camp swiftly went through the regular and lifesaving procedures.

Achan was screened using a Mid-Upper Arm Circumference (MUAC) tape measuring the child’s arm and a simple and fast way to detect different levels of malnutrition. Showing well into the red zone, Achan and Vivian were admitted in the treatment programme and given adequate sachets of Ready to Use Therapeutic Food (RUTF)  ­– a lifesaving peanut-based food, packed with nutrients that can save the baby’s life.

Next, Mary – a Nutrition Nurse at the center – counseled Vivian on how to use the treatment ensuring Achan gets two sachets per day and is handled hygienically to avoid other diseases. She will receive follow up from the nurse and nutrition center workers to check on progress of both Vivian’s wasted babies.

“With two of the triplets sick it is very hard to breastfeed all three and get adequate food for the other five children and myself. We can buy from the market but it’s expensive and what we get from the camp’s food distribution has reduced a lot recently,” she said.

“I am worried for my children and I am paying attention to treat them properly and into good health. My hope is for the triplets and the others to attend school one day but with the current situation and costs, none of them can attend.”

A woman in a protective face mask sits across from another woman who is holding a young child
UNICEF South Sudan/James Maiden
Nutrition Nurse Mary counsels mother Vivian about treating her babies for malnutrition

This is an increasingly frequent scenario across South Sudan, with UNICEF projecting more than 300,000 children to suffer from severe wasting in 2022 and more than 1.4 million wasted children. Meanwhile UNICEF and partners are facing rising costs of supplies and operations due to global shocks such as the war in Ukraine and the COVID-19 pandemic. Plumpynut, the Ready to Use Therapeutic Food (RUTF) used to treat malnutrition is expected to rise in cost by 16 per cent this year.

“We rely on the generous support of humanitarian partners for the nutrition programme to keep identifying, treating and monitoring the increasing number of children with wasting,” said Jesca Murye, a Nutrition Specialist at UNICEF while attending to Vivian and her triplets.

“But we need more resources and funds to support these critical and lifesaving interventions to treat and keep our beautiful children in South Sudan healthy and thriving,” she said.

Two women and four children
UNICEF South Sudan/James Maiden
Vivian and her triplets with 9 year old son, Manuel and UNICEF Nutrition Specialist Jesca Murye

UNICEF runs more than 1300 Nutrition centers across South Sudan with support from USAID, EU, UKAID, KFW and the Government of Canada as well as generous contributions from individuals and governments from various UNICEF National Committees.

Through these centers and within communities, UNICEF together with WFP integrates preventative nutrition interventions such as vitamin A supplementation, nutrition counselling of mothers and caregivers,  community engagement and behaviour change activities, promotion of kitchen gardens progrmme,  and nutrition training and capacity building of health and nutrition workers.