South Sudan

Blue for youngest, red for the rest: Over 300,000 children targeted in a vitamin A campaign in Unity State

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© UNICEFSouthSudan/Kidega

By David Kidega and Helene Sandbu Ryeng

BENTIU, 24 February 2021 - A mother is gently reclining her child, holding the child’s gaze as reassurance that what will happen next is ok. As the health worker is approaching from behind, the mother gently presses the child’s jaws for the mouth to open. Two drops are squeezed out of the tiny plastic bladder. Done! Only 303,856 children left.

This week, the nationwide Vitamin A and deworming campaign started in all the ten states including Unity where Bentiu is situated. The blue drop formed badders with vitamin A are for the youngest children and the red capsules are for children from 12 months and up to five years.

“Please make sure your children are taken for vitamin A and deworming, it helps them stay healthy,” the State Health Advisor, Peter Koang Chuol, told mothers at the campaign kickoff. Vitamin A bolsters the immune system, helps protect against life-threatening infections like measles and diarrheal disease and is needed for vision and bone growth. High-dose supplementation with this essential vitamin improves a child’s chance of survival by 12 to 24 per cent.

Ideally, children should get enough vitamin A from a balanced, healthy diet that includes milk, cheese, eggs, fruits and vegetables like mangoes, papaya, carrots, yams and squash or foods fortified with vitamin A. In South Sudan, only seven per cent of the children have a well-balanced diet. The rest are vulnerable to vitamin A deficiency and its devastating consequences. South Sudan has one of the highest child mortality rates in the world, therefore, the national campaign is a priority for UNICEF.

Children are also receiving deworming tablets during the campaign, as worms can cause internal bleeding, intestinal inflammation and obstruction, diarrhoea and impairment of nutrition intake, digestion and absorption. Given the low food security and high prevalence of malnutrition, it is essential for children’s health that every vitamin and nutrient is absorbed properly.

“In this area, children and their families have faced multiple shocks over many years and there is no redundancy to build resilience,” says UNICEF nutrition officer David Kidega. “This is one of the areas hardest hit by conflict, the flood water washed away homes and destroyed crops and contaminated water sources last year. Vitamin A and deworming are simple but very effective ways of boosting children’s health.”

To ensure all children were reached with these vital interventions, 195 community mobilisers and 706 nutrition volunteers were knocking on doors and talking to caregivers, political leaders and others ensuring everyone knew about the campaign and clarified any misunderstanding that might exist around the deworming and vitamin A.

The vitamin A and deworming campaign is generously supported by Canada.