Vitamin A supplementation
A simple but crucial way to help children survive in South Sudan
In Kodok, a remote village on the Western banks of the White Nile in South Sudan, the call of a loudspeaker can be heard piercing the quiet post-rain atmosphere. The young woman speaker repeats the message to the community over and over while her two companions are going door-to-door armed with bottles of tiny red and blue capsules full of Vitamin A supplements and deworming tablets.
“Teams are moving from house-to-house, please receive them to have let them give your children Vitamin A and deworming tablets. Vitamin A increase protection for your children and deworming gets rid of stomach worms,” says Khamisa, a community social mobiliser who works to promote health campaigns and support health and nutrition initiatives in the village.
Vitamin A is crucial for children under 5 years old to boost their immune systems and helps prevent disease, infections, and blindness. In countries where children do not receive enough Vitamin A in their diets through fresh fruits, vegetables and other vitamin rich foods, high rates of Vitamin A deficiency can be life threatening.
For the last decade in South Sudan, UNICEF has supported the Ministry of Health to conduct bi-annual Vitamin A supplement campaigns bundled with deworming treatment across the country. Coverage rates of Vitamin A in children 6 months to 5 years have improved from around 4 per cent to more than 90 per cent.
Reaching every child is a challenge in a country inflicted by conflicts, climate change impacts such as flooding, and people on the move through displacement. Still, with the help of thousands of dedicated community volunteers, such as Khamisa, even the most remote places can be reached.
Jesca Murye, a UNICEF Nutrition Specialist explains that two rounds of Vitamin A supplementation and deworming are conducted every year in collaboration with UNICEF and the Government of South Sudan, and the in-kind support of the Government of Canada, which supplies over 6 million capsules of Vitamin A each year.
“Vitamin A supplementation is one of the important public health interventions in South Sudan. It reduces the risk of death and occurrence of childhood diseases among children under five. We thank the government of Canada for supplying the capsules and their financial support to our teams and partners to reach these most remote places and help the children most in need,” she said.
Integrated approach to better childhood nutrition
Malnutrition and childhood disease are on the rise in South Sudan. It is projected that more than 1.44 million children will suffer from wasting which is exacerbated by illnesses such as diarrhea and malaria. While treatment of children with severe wasting are core to UNICEF’s nutrition programme, the focus should always be prevention, and only if this fails, then treatment is a must.
In addition to campaigns such as the Vitamin A supplementation, UNICEF with partners such as WFP support integrated approaches to child health and nutrition. Mother-to-mother support groups play an important role in supporting other mothers in their communities to keep their children well-nourished and healthy.
Elizabeth Deng Achol is the leader of one of these groups in Kodok. A mother of eight, she joined the support group in 2018 when she saw many children suffering from malnutrition in her community and wished to bring her experience to help other mothers. She was trained along with her group in all aspects of raising healthy, well-nourished children.
“We are trained in teaching other mothers about feeding their children good nutritious foods available in the community, such as fruits, vegetables and milk. We also teach them about the importance of breastfeeding the young ones exclusively up to six months.”
The mother-to-mother support groups also manage model kitchen gardens which are used for training the community in growing fruits and vegetables around their own homes. They develop community members skills in learning which crops to plant and even the use of local species of vegetables that are adapted to the extreme environment in South Sudan where drought and flooding are recurrent problems.
UNICEF runs more than 1300 Nutrition centers across South Sudan and these community outreach programmes 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.
For experienced mothers such as Elizabeth and young aspiring health professionals, like Khamisa – nutrition and health promotion in the far-off corners of countries such as South Sudan remains a huge challenge. But a healthy and thriving future for the millions of children cannot be achieved without them.