Fighting hunger: How we save young lives in South Sudan

It has been a dangerous, barefooted walk through the deep mud of Pibor County, South Sudan. In sweltering, intense heat, 32-year-old Nyakuoth and her sick baby Tut arrive exhausted at Medair’s stabilisation centre. Although she feared robbery and clashes of rival groups on her way to the clinic, Nyakuoth had no choice but to take these huge risks. 

“I could not do anything at home when my baby got sick”, she explains. “There is no access to medical treatment and health care for us.” Days before, 12-month-old Tut started vomiting, suffering watery diarrhoea and a high fever. “Tut lost a lot of weight, I got really concerned and felt so helpless”, the mother remembers. 

When the family’s cattle died during severe flooding in late 2020, they lost their livelihood. “We are now dependent on support of humanitarian organisations to survive. The flood washed away everything.”, Nyakuoth sadly continues. “We try our best to cultivate maize in our small garden for a living, but it’s simply not enough”, the mother adds.

A mother holds her malnourished baby in a stabilisation centre.

Nyakuoth and Tut on their bed in the stabilisation centre. ©Medair/Stefan Kewitz

The story of Nyakuoth and Tut is, unfortunately, not unique in the world’s youngest country. Today, people in South Sudan face the worst humanitarian crisis since independence. Ongoing intercommunal conflicts and unprecedented floods have caused many to flee their homes and have destroyed livelihoods for countless people. Two thirds of the country’s 12.4 million inhabitants face extreme levels of food insecurity and malnutrition. This makes South Sudan one of the worst food insecurity emergencies in the world.1 

The devastating 2020 flooding that Nyakuoth’s family experienced triggered Medair’s activities in Pibor. The Emergency Response Team successfully ran a measles vaccination campaign following an outbreak during the flooding, and also identified the need for support of the nutrition stabilisation centre. This facility provides emergency health care for malnourished children under five years of age who are also battling additional diseases. 

A stabilisation centre run by a humanitarian organization.

Medair’s stabilisation centre in Pibor town offers free treatment for malnourished children under 5 years with additional diseases. ©Medair/Stefan Kewitz

As Nyakuoth desperately searched for help for her baby, community members told her about stabilisation centre. When she finally arrived, after hours of walking, the clinic staff wasted no time and immediately began the examination. David, Medair Nutrition Manager, suspects Tut is suffering from malaria. And he is right: the test is positive. For the weak and acute malnourished infant, this condition is life-threatening. 

A male humanitarian worker treats a malnourished baby.

Medair’s Nutrition Manager David measures the upper arm of 12-month-old baby Tut in the stabilisation centre. Only 11.2 centimeters of size indicates severe malnutrition and immediate need for action. ©Medair/Stefan Kewitz

The examination also shows the severity of little Tut’s malnutrition. The size of his upper arm measures not more than 11.2 centimetres. Weighing only 6.7 kilograms at 72.5 centimetres height, it’s obvious that Tut needs immediate help. He and his mother will now stay in the clinic for one week, which is the usual treatment duration of sick infants in Medair’s stabilisation centre. The upcoming days will be crucial for Tut. 

Two male humanitarian workers compile a treatment plan in a stabilization centre.

:In the stabilisation centre, David and his team create the treatment plan for their little malnourished patient Tut.Name: Nutrition Manager David compiling the treatment plan for malnourished baby Tut. ©Medair/Stefan Kewitz

Fortunately, with the right medication and therapeutic nutrition provided, children are very likely to recover from acute malnutrition. The treatment is simple and effective. For our small patients and their families, it’s live-saving access to primary health care which means the world to them. Tut and children like him can only recover because of the efforts of our experienced health staff and funding from donors who faithfully support Medair’s activities in South Sudan.

A malnourished child with therapeutic food in a stabilization centre.

Little Tut is recovering well. The treatment runs successful and the baby enjoys his first meal of Plumpy’Nut. ©Medair/Stefan Kewitz

Four days after arriving, this sight puts a big smile upon our faces. Tut’s condition has clearly improved. Most malaria symptoms are already gone. The therapeutic milk he has received has made him gain strength and weight. Proudly he shows the camera his very first dose of Plumpy’Nut, a high-calorie peanut paste containing many essential nutrients. Stories of hope like his inspire us to trust that every life is worth the extra mile. Since Medair began its continuous support for the stabilisation centre, 350 children were admitted and managed by our health staff. 

Medair services in Pibor, South Sudan, are funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), UK aid from the UK government and generous private donors. 

This content was produced with resources gathered by Medair field and headquarters staff. The views expressed herein are those solely of Medair and should not be taken, in any way, to reflect the official opinion of any other organisation.