South Sudan: Positive Impact of Nutrition Support Visible Among Refugee Children

A combined effort by health, water, sanitation and nutrition partners, including the World Food Programme (WFP), to reduce alarming malnutrition rates amongst Sudanese refugees who have settled in Maban County of South Sudan, is beginning to yield fruit.  Parents say they have seen dramatic improvements in their children’s health. 

GENDRASSA, SOUTH SUDAN – “I was very worried about the health of my little girl, her arms were so thin and she was often very sick” says Rahama Hassin, holding her little girl Massa. “But with the nutritional support that we receive, my mind is at ease.”

Rahama is one of the more than 110,000 refugees currently living in four different settlements in Maban County, in South Sudan’s Upper Nile State. In June this year, the conflict in Sudan’s Blue Nile State reached her normally tranquil village, turning her family’s lives upside down. After several bombs dropped near the village, she took her two kids and fled toward South Sudan.

Rahama Hassin receiving a two-week ration of a special nutritional product that supports the growth of her little girl, Massa. Photo copyright WFP/Philipp HerzogThe fight against malnutrition  

Tens of thousands of refugees like Rahama and her children poured into the refugee camps in South Sudan, often arriving weak, ill and malnourished from weeks of trekking and surviving on wild plants and unsafe water. Malnutrition rates soared to alarming levels in the refugee settlements.

To address that, WFP in July scaled up its existing nutrition support for new mothers and children, who are particularly vulnerable to the effects of undernutrition. In addition to providing regular food rations to all refugees, WFP and its partners have been providing specialized nutritional products to all children under the age of 5, all pregnant women and all nursing mothers in all the Maban County refugee settlements, both to treat those who are diagnosed as moderately malnourished and to prevent worsening malnutrition.

Rahama’s little girl Massa is among the more than 3,900 children receiving this support in the Gendrassa refugee settlement.

“Already after two weeks, I was able to see the difference in Massa’s weight,” Rahama says.

Health partners say malnutrition rates among children have been decreasing following the vast scale up by humanitarian partners, although the situation remains a concern.

Supporting mothers and their childrenA health and nutrition worker screens Amona Naima’s nutrition status by measuring her mid-upper arm circumference. Amona is eight months pregnant.  Photo copyright WFP/Philipp Herzog

WFP’s nutrition support for pregnant women and new mothers is also appreciated by the refugees.

Amona Naima is a mother of two, and is expecting a third child in a month’s time. After fleeing from her village in Sudan, she spent two months in the bush eating leaves and drinking stagnant rainwater.

“I still have nightmares when thinking about the last months,” she admits. Naima and her two kids are now part of the supplementary feeding program in the refugee settlements.

To prevent and treat malnutrition effectively, WFP’s partners in the camps instruct mothers on how to use and prepare the nutritional products and give mothers classes on basic nutrition, health and hygiene before they receive their nutrition rations.

“I don’t know whether my child will be a boy or a girl, but the only thing that matters to me that it will be in good health thanks to the help we get here.”

-- Story and photos by Philipp Herzog, WFP South Sudan