In South Sudan, climate change, conflict and resulting mass displacement have converged to create the worst food insecurity crisis the country has ever experienced. According to UNICEF, two-thirds of the South Sudanese population (over seven million people) are estimated to be experiencing acute food insecurity, and it is also estimated that approximately 1.4 million children are malnourished.
GOAL has been operational in South Sudan since 1985, supporting displaced communities and refugees from neighbouring countries with nutrition programming and health systems strengthening support, funded by the EU. GOAL implements targeted supplementary feeding programmes, outpatient therapeutic feeding programmes, and inpatient feeding programmes to treat severe acute malnutrition among children under the age of five.
Viola’s son was referred to a GOAL stabilisation centre in Pure, a village in Kajo-Keji county, after one of GOAL’s Community Nutrition Volunteers visited her home and conducted a MUAC screening test, which identified that the child was suffering from severe acute malnutrition with medical complications – severe muscle wasting, lethargy, and a loss of appetite.
GOAL staff leapt into action to save the baby’s life, slowly and carefully administering Viola’s son medication and therapeutic milk formula over the course of several days until he met discharge criteria and was ready to be taken home. “I did not think my child would recover,” Viola admitted. “I lost hope, but now I am happy.”
Education is Key
Education is crucial to preventing and reducing rates of infant and child malnutrition in South Sudan. In addition to providing healthcare services, GOAL teams also use community-based interventions to prevent and treat child malnutrition by addressing the underlying causes of undernourishment.
GOAL staff conduct health education sessions and community meetings to improve communities’ understanding of nutrition and ensure the sustainable adoption of positive practices. This includes teaching households how to begin their own micro gardens so that they can produce more nutritious foods.
“Now that my child is healthy, I feel relieved from the stress that I felt earlier, and I can focus on other domestic activities, such as farming, to produce enough food for my family,” Viola said. “We were taught in the health education sessions that a variety of food is good for nutrition. I’m happy that we’re now well-fed, and I have gained weight too!”
During the South Sudanese Civil Conflict in 2016, many health facilities in Kajo-Keji were attacked. Medicine and medical equipment were looted, and many health facilities were forced to close their doors.
In Kajo-Keji, only two out of 58 health facilities remained functional in the whole county, and facilities and services in the remaining medical centres were limited due to a lack of supplies and staff. This resulted in a near-total collapse of the healthcare system in Kajo-Keji. GOAL staff have since been working tirelessly in the region to strengthen local health systems and raise awareness of available services amongst local communities.
“I did not have any idea about the nutrition services until one of the GOAL Community Nutrition Volunteers came to my home, screened my child, and referred me to the nearest health centre,” Viola explained. “I encourage GOAL to continue supporting those health workers in moving from home to home so that other mothers can also receive the same service.”
When asked what she would do if she saw another child in her village suffering from malnutrition, Viola said: “I will advise the mother to take the child to the nearest health centre so that their condition will be examined and referred.”
GOAL supported and continues to support nutrition sites in Kajo-Keji, providing health service delivery funded by the EU.