Battling children's malnutrition amid conflict in Sudan

Malnourished children in Sudan

By Shakir Elhassan, Communication and Influencing Manager, CARE International in Sudan. Photos: CARE Sudan

15 April 2024


In Sudan, approximately 3 million children under five suffer from malnutrition annually, 610,000 of whom suffer from severe acute malnutrition. This means that they have very low weight for their height or length, and may have fluid build-up causing swelling, or a very low mid-upper arm circumference. Without treatment their development will be severely impacted and there is a risk of death.

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The current conflict, which is approaching the 1-year mark, is only making this worse. The fighting has made it difficult and dangerous for people to move about freely and transport costs have soared, making it difficult for people in rural areas to access medical care.

Aida’s story

Malnourished child in Sudan

Image: Aida's daughter Zeinab regaining her appetite at the Acute Malnutrition Stabilization Center, Kassala Teaching Hospital

In her village in East Sudan, Aida began to worry about the health of her daughter, Zeinab. She was sick, with repeated bouts of diarrhoea making her very weak.

Aida took her daughter to the nearby health centre, supported by CARE International in Sudan, where she was examined and referred to the Kassala Teaching Hospital to receive medical treatment. The hospital was several hours away by bus, and the fare was more than Aida could afford.

I was so concerned about how I could travel to the hospital and how I would survive there as I have no money.” - Aida

CARE International in Sudan, with funding from the Government of Canada, supported Aida with her transportation costs and is helping to meet her daily needs while her daughter is undergoing treatment.

Cash support in Sudan

Image: Aida received cash assistance to help transport her malnourished daughter to the Acute Malnutrition Stabilization Center, Kassala Teaching Hospital.

“When admitted to the Stabilization Center, Zeinab was suffering from acute malnutrition, a condition that affects thousands of vulnerable children in East Sudan due to the current conflict, economic crisis, poverty, food insecurity, lack of health services, lack of awareness on malnutrition prevention and treatment, and cultural barriers,” said Dr. Amal Mohmed Ahmed, the paediatrician in charge of the Stabilization Center at the Kassala Teaching Hospital.

“When I arrived with my daughter at the Malnutrition Stabilization Center, she was examined and weighed. Her length was checked, and she was examined for malnutrition-associated complications. The doctor assured me with treatment my daughter would gradually be okay,” recalls Aida.

My daughter has started gradually gaining weight and now she can eat by herself. The health of my daughter has remarkably improved since we were admitted to the Acute Malnutrition Stabilization Center at Kassala Teaching Hospital some three weeks ago." - Aida

Zeinab grew to like the food she was given, her appetite dramatically increased, and she started to eat by herself. Her mood started to improve, and she began to look at the kids around her. She started to play again.

“Day after day, the Stabilization Center [staff] eagerly watched Zeinab gain strength and weight, eventually reaching a healthy 6 kg [13lbs],” noted Dr. Amal with a broad smile. “We are so happy that she will soon be discharged from the program.”

The Acute Malnutrition Stabilization Center

Health centre in Sudan

Image: Aida receives a meal while her daughter Zeinab is having treatment in the Stabilization Center in Kassala Teaching Hospital.

“CARE International in Sudan rehabilitated and furnished the Acute Malnutrition Stabilization Center in Kassala Teaching Hospital, thanks to funding from Global Affairs Canada, to better provide lifesaving treatment for acute malnourished children from all over Kassala state,” said Abdelgadir Abdelwhab, Health and Nutrition Manager, CARE International in Sudan – Kassala Office.

The Acute Malnutrition Stabilization Center serves malnourished children from all 11 localities in Kassala State through the referral system. The Center receives 50 acutely malnourished children per month and the number jumps to 100 children per month during the lean season— when food is starting to run low and the next harvest has not yet begun—from June to October every year.

“To support vulnerable families to continue treating their malnourished children, we support co-patients with daily meals and give them transportation allowance,” explained Abdelgadir Abdelwhab. CARE covers the cost of medications, pays incentives for the health and supporting staff and covers the cost of regular maintenance and medical equipment.

In addition to acute malnutrition treatment, CARE International in Sudan provides additional health and nutrition services such as integrated management of childhood and neonatal illness for children under the age of five, immunization, antenatal care, postnatal care, birth spacing counselling, first aid and basic trauma care.

CARE International in Sudan


Image: CARE International in Sudan is distributing cash to vulnerable families in East Sudan © Mohammed Abdulmajid/CARE

In response to the ongoing and long-lasting conflict in Sudan, CARE International in Sudan provides mental health consultations, counselling and referrals and psychosocial support to address the needs of the affected population.

In January, CARE resumed nutrition services in South Darfur, reaching previously cut-off communities. In Nyala, CARE runs a centre for children under the age of five, and pregnant and nursing mothers. At the centre, children are screened for malnutrition and receive life-saving therapeutic food and treatment alongside mothers.

CARE also worked closely with the local government in response to a Dengue fever outbreak, helping to scale up the isolation unit in Abugibiha Hospital in South Kordofan, increase community awareness, and support infection prevention measures.

In South Sudan, where many Sudanese people fled, families were provided with multi-purpose cash assistance. The project prioritized the most vulnerable groups, particularly female-headed households. More than 2,000 families received cash transfers to help them purchase food.

As in any emergency, women and girls are at increased risk of violence. In South Sudan, an education and awareness campaign reached more than 26,000 people, focused on preventing domestic violence against women and girls and early and forced marriage.

How you can help

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