The heroes saving children’s lives during the crisis
On World Humanitarian Day, UNICEF celebrates frontline workers whose support is keeping the youngest of the young alive
Four months into the Sudan crisis the future of 24 million children is at stake. The cost of inaction in stopping the conflict is catastrophic.
Every passing day, the needs of these children increase, and the youngest are struggling to survive. Destruction of healthcare facilities, disruption of critical healthcare services like immunizations, newborn care and availability of healthcare workers is putting many at risk of death and life-threatening complications.
Across the country, brave and resilient, humanitarian workers remain at the frontline providing relief, hope and much needed care for those in need especially children.
These resilient frontline workers are members of the community who have dedicated their time and expertise, regardless of the tough times, to deliver lifesaving services.
They are the heroes that make the already difficult situation more bearable each day. Through their support, the youngest of the young can survive another day. While they bring hope to the children, they also bring smiles to mothers, parents, caregivers, and all people affected by the conflict.
On World Humanitarian Day, UNICEF celebrates these heroes and shares a few stories from the field.
‘Mama Aziza’, the nutritionist
“It is difficult to describe how I feel when I see a malnourished child in desperate condition,” says Aziza Muhammed, a nutritionist.
‘Mama Aziza’ as she is commonly known by the mothers, was trained by UNICEF on infant and young child feeding (IYCF) practices. Even before the conflict, she sensitized mothers on good feeding practices to prevent malnutrition and supported malnourished children admitted at the stabilization centre.
Not even the conflict has deterred her from continuing to serve as she celebrates every child that leaves the centre much better than when they arrived.
Today, mothers continue to visit the health facility seeking for treatment for their sick children. The good news is the facility is open and health workers like Aziza are there to support.
During the quieter days with no fighting, Aziza is at the health facility. But she is disturbed by the increase in number of children suffering from malnutrition following the onset of the conflict.
“The situation has worsened because people have less to eat, they have nothing and are unable to find work,” Aziza confirms. “Therefore, many children are severely malnourished.”
The conflict is pushing many into malnutrition, a deadly condition with irreversible effects. This worries Aziza as she diligently treats malnourished children.
Despite the challenges in accessing hot spots like the Darfurs, UNICEF delivered nutrition supplies including therapeutic milk and food to health facilities in North Darfur including Patient Helping Fund Integrated Nutrition Facility, in AbuShouk IDP camp in North Darfur, where Mama Aziza works.
Suleman Musa, a water truck driver
Suleman is on call daily, delivering water to hospitals and displaced communities.
From the onset of the conflict, he has not stopped. Catering to water needs one village at a time and one hospital at a time.
“I like what I do because through my work, people have access to water which is a critical need,” he shares.
Through his daily efforts, communities are ensured of clean water. At each stop they wait with containers of all sizes and in no time, these are filled.
Asma Hessen, a vaccinator
Asma Hessen is at the vaccination centre in Wad Medani Children's Hospital daily. Her childhood dream of becoming a doctor drives her to continue serving even during these difficult times. Since 1989, Asma has specialised in vaccinating children under two years and pregnant mothers, something she is proud of. Now more than ever, her contribution is required to protect the most vulnerable infants from vaccine preventable diseases.
“My childhood dream was to become a doctor, but today I do what is most important - prevent diseases,” Asma shares.
Thousands of people have sought refuge in Wad Madani as they flee violence from their homes. Mothers with infants, some born during the recent conflict flock the hospital for immunation services. Asma has and remains at her work station to vaccinate them.
“We must help these mothers and children who have come to us during these difficult situations,” she says.
For Asma, it is a fulfilled dream.
“I take into account every child that comes for immunization. I hold the crying child in my arms until they stop crying.”
“We are still providing our service and will continue to do so,” she affirms.
“I long for a Sudan where all children and the next generations are healthy.”
Mubarak Mohamed Mustafa Mohamed, hygiene promoter
Previously Mubarak, a community mobilizer and hygiene promoter traversed the outskirts of his town promoting good hygiene practices.
“My role is important, and I am confident that through these simple practices that I promote daily including handwashing, life-threatening diseases can be prevented,” he says.
Following the mass displacements, the state, his role has since evolved. Currently, he is reaching many more people including internally displaced persons, children including those with disabilities and host communities with his awareness drives.
Clean hands and proper sanitation practices save lives of many especially children.
Auatf Mater, a paediatric nurse
Good quality newborn care services during humanitarian situations are critical to reducing neonatal deaths. At the children's hospital in Wad Madani, the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) is open and supporting the survival of preterm babies.
“I love working in this department and helping these innocent babies. I feel their pain, even though they can't complain. By their crying, I can understand how they feel,” says Auatf a peadiatric nurse.
Faced with enormous challenges to get to work, including transportation from her remote home, Auatf is always at the hospital.
Her shift starts with a stroll around the NICU, from one incubator to another monitoring the small preterm babies. While some were delivered early, others were born with complications and need extra care support to grow strong and healthy. Their meals, medicines and temperatures are all monitored.
She takes her time, providing medication, adjusting their feeding tubes, checking their intravenous lines, updating their records, adjusting oxygen masks and ensuring they are comfortable. Auatf does it all and is not about to stop. Without her daily support and care, the children would struggle to survive. While mothers visit the unit occasionally to feed and nurse the little ones, Auatf and her colleagues care for them most of the time. They take turns to watch them in a room full of monitors beeping constantly.
The dedication and perseverance of Auatf and her team makes all this happen. Unlike before the conflict, they are now attending to many more preterm babies.
“There is great pressure on the unit, as the number of patients has increased. We do our best to maintain the service under very difficult circumstances. Recently there are insufficient workers, so we are working longer hours to fill the gap,” Auatf shares.
Despite the increased workload, Auatf remains committed to supporting the little ones, something she has done for the past 27 years and vows to continue even during the crisis.
“When NICU workers remembered humanity, they continued to deliver services with a lot of passion,” Auatf concluded.
Asma Abdullah, a nutritionist
Asma Abdullah and a team of nutritionists monitor the nutritional status of children daily at Wad Madani Children’s Hospital using MUAC tapes and weighing scales.
The team has registered a spike in the patient load since the conflict started. At the clinic, more and more mothers and caregivers are arriving with their children, and some need urgent support.
“Children are suffering the most. “They are wasting away due to lack or little to eat,” Asma shares.
Despite the increased workload, the team remains, serving tirelessly.
“But for the sake of every sick child, we will face all difficulties and we will continue our work.”
To all humanitarian frontline workers – Thank you
Sudan’s humanitarian crisis has turned into a full-blown catastrophe, pushing the already vulnerable into a further state of desperation and threatening millions of lives.
UNICEF and partners continue to call for unimpeded access to those in need especially in the hot spots of Darfur, Kordofan and Khartoum as well as the continued protection of humanitarian workers delivering urgent and immediate support.
On World Humanitarian Day, UNICEF pays tribute to these relentless humanitarian workers who go over and beyond to deliver for every child, wherever they are and whoever they are.
Together, we never give up, and continue to deliver critical child protection, learning, health, nutrition, social protection and WASH services and cash plus interventions for vulnerable children and families across Sudan. But need urgent funding, and all hands-on-deck to deliver lifesaving support #ForEveryChild.
Sudan's children need Peace now.