Little Ishak recovers from malnutrition

UNICEF and partners support children’s nutrition and access to primary healthcare in Rural Damascus

Sandra Awad
26 April 2022

3 April 2022, Rural Damascus, Syria - “I used to look at my son and feel sad. He was very thin and did not have the energy to play with his brother and cousins,” said Abir, the mother of Ishak from Jarba village in East Ghouta, Rural Damascus, Syria. “Luckily those days are over. Now, he doesn’t stop playing and jumping around!” she continued while looking at him with pride.

Ishak, 1.5 years old, lives with his older brother Jamal, his parents, grandparents, uncle, and aunt.

“We can’t afford to live in a separate house,” said Abir about living with the extended family. Her husband, Mohamed, was injured in the conflict. He works nowadays as a carrier in the market. With the declining economic situation and skyrocketing prices in the country, his daily salary barely keeps the family afloat.

Ishak’s grandfather supports the family with the modest salary he makes from working as a postman. And Rana, the grandmother, planted herbs and vegetables in a small plot near the house. The family depends on it for food.

“We can’t afford dairy products, chicken, meat or fruit. It seems our poor diet affected the health of my daughter-in-law when she was pregnant. I believe it also impacted little Ishak’s health,”

Rana, the grandmother.
Woman collecting herps with a child sitting next to her.
UNICEF/Syria/2022/Hasan Belal
Ishak, 1.5 years, with his grandmother Rana, in the yard, near their house, where she planted herbs and vegetables for food in Jarba village of East Ghouta, Rural Damascus, Syria, on 6 March 2022. The family depends on Rana’s plants for food.

From birth until the age of six months, Ishak was breastfed. He then had difficulties in adjusting to solid food as part of his diet. His asthma attacks, sometimes lasting up to twenty days, made things worse. “Ishak started walking and teething later than other children in his age,” his mother said.

“I didn’t know where or who to turn to,” Abir added. Due to long years of crisis, there is severe lack of primary healthcare and nutrition services in Rural Damascus. Even if accessible, many people cannot afford to pay for the services. The dire economic situation is making things worse for many, including Abir and, her son, Ishak.

“Ishak started walking and teething later than other children in his age,”

Abir, 22
Child sleeping on a shoulder
UNICEF/Syria/2022/Hasan Belal
Ishak, 1.5 year, sleeps on the shoulder of his mother Abir while waiting for his turn to receive a health checkup and malnutrition screening from a UNICEF -supported mobile team in Jarba village of East Ghouta, Rural Damascus, Syria, on 6 March 2022.

In December 2021, Abir took Ishak to a UNICEF -supported mobile medical team, one of the seven teams reaching children and mothers in Rural Damascus, rural Dara’a and Rural Quneitra, south Syria. “When I heard about the team visiting our village twice a week, I rushed Ishak for a checkup. After the examination, they told me he suffered from moderate acute malnutrition,” Abir said.

Health worker taking the height of a child
UNICEF/Syria/2022/Hasan Belal
Ishak, 1.5 year, receives a screening for malnutrition and a health checkup from a UNICEF-supported mobile team, while still being treated for malnutrition, in Jarba village of East Ghouta, Rural Damascus, Syria, on 6 March 2022.
Health worker screening with MUAC
UNICEF/Syria/2022/Hasan Belal
Ishak, 1.5 year, receives a screening for malnutrition and a health checkup from a UNICEF-supported mobile team, while still being treated for malnutrition, in Jarba village of East Ghouta, Rural Damascus, Syria, on 6 March 2022.

Abir started to visit the mobile team once a week to provide Ishak with the vitamins and nutritional supplements he needed as part of his treatment plan. “Whenever I missed an appointment for some reason, they’d call and check on him and remind me to come for a follow-up appointment. The support we received from them has been great!”

Women and children groups
UNICEF/Syria/2022/Hasan Belal
Mothers and children in Jarba village of East Ghouta, Rural Damascus, Syria, wait to receive health and nutrition support from a UNICEF -supported mobile team.

During the first week after the beginning of the treatment, Ishak’s appetite began to improve. He started to gain weight gradually and he began to walk. He started his first attempts to talk, saying a few words. “When he said mom, I cried. My son is just like any other child. He just needed some medical support,” she said.

Woman holding a child
UNICEF/Syria/2022/Hasan Belal
Abir, 22, holds her son Ishak, 1.5 years, in their house in Jarba village of East Ghouta, Rural Damascus, Syria, on 3 April 2022.

In late March 2022, during a visit to the UNICEF -supported mobile health team, Abir finally heard the news she had been holding her breath for. Ishak had finally recovered from malnutrition. “I couldn’t hold back my tears in that moment. We’ve been blessed with this help,” she said.

Child having a MUAC screening
UNICEF/Syria/2022/Hasan Belal
Ishak, 1.5 year, receives a screening for malnutrition from a UNICEF -supported mobile team in Jarba village of East Ghouta, Rural Damascus, Syria, on 3 April 2022. The screening was done right after his recovery from malnutrition.

Since late 2021, UNICEF has reached nearly 85,000 children and 29,000 mothers with screening for acute malnutrition and more than 290,000 children and women with medical checkups and treatment in Syria. More than 15,000 children and 14,000 mothers in Rural Damascus were supported through UNICEF’s nutrition and primary healthcare programmes. The Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance (BHA) made this support possible