Mia Farrow has returned from South Sudan where she visited health programs run by the International Rescue Committee (IRC). In her new role as an IRC Voice, Farrow is calling for improvements to the global system for treating acute malnutrition and is urging United Nations agencies, NGOs and governments to collaborate on measures to increase access to treatment for children. 860,000 children are expected to suffer from acute malnutrition in South Sudan in 2019. An estimated 7.7 million people will be in need of food assistance during the May – July/August peak of the lean season.
Observing extreme hunger and malnutrition in remote communities, Farrow visited sites in Unity state where the IRC is working to increase access to treatment. She met with community health workers (CHWs) who are diagnosing and treating malaria, diarrhea and pneumonia and visited clinics where children can access malnutrition treatment, but where mothers are forced to travel on foot for up to 8 hours to reach it. These services, while necessary and lifesaving, are inadequate to meet the current rates of acute malnutrition in the country.
Farrow said, “The expectation is that 860,000 children will suffer from acute malnutrition in South Sudan this year, roughly half of whom cannot access treatment. South Sudan is not alone – this number is symptomatic of a global failure to address this life threatening condition. We risk losing entire generations. Solving this crisis is one of the biggest humanitarian opportunities I’ve seen in over 20 visits to sub-Saharan Africa. It’s so obvious that a new approach is needed.”
Only 80% of acutely malnourished children have access to treatment globally. To address the treatment gap, the IRC and its partners have developed a new approach that could treat millions more over the next decade. Under the current model for treatment, children are divided into severe and moderate categories and enrolled into separate programs. They are treated with different products administered by different United Nations agencies. This fragmented approach means children rarely get the full benefit of treatment because severe and moderate acute malnutrition therapies are rarely both available in the same place at the same time, and are clinic based, rather than at the community level. The IRC has developed a combined, simplified malnutrition treatment approach that uses one program and one therapeutic product, and is delivered by CHWs, who live and work within their own communities delivering healthcare right to the doorsteps of malnourished children.
Farrow continued, “The current system forces mothers to walk hours or even days through oppressive heat or pounding rain to reach a clinic for their children. Too many children don’t survive the journey and it’s a perilous one for the mothers too. This is needless. The entire process could be simplified by enabling CHWs to treat children in their own homes or villages. I have now seen firsthand the lifesaving role CHWs are playing in treating childhood diseases and the IRC has already proven that they can successfully diagnose and treat acute malnutrition too.
We know what the solution is and we have the ingredients to solve it. Now we need United Nations agencies, NGOs and governments to join forces to bring care closer to the children before more needlessly die.”
Farrow’s visit to South Sudan was her first as an IRC voice, and her fifth visit to South Sudan.
The IRC has more than 480 staff in South Sudan providing health, women’s protection and empowerment, child protection, and livelihoods programs. The IRC is one of the largest providers of aid in South Sudan serving more than 900,000 people.
To learn more about IRC’s approach to treating acute malnutrition, click here.
To view and download images from the trip, click here.
Distributed by APO Group on behalf of International Rescue Committee.