Malnutrition is not just a problem of the young: supporting South Sudan’s elderly


It’s a Friday morning in the Rubkona nutrition facility called sector five in Bentiu’s displacement camp. The health facility is already crowded with long queue of families with young children, pregnant and lactating mother’s,  and elderly women and men, all of whom are the most vulnerable to malnutrition. They wait patiently for their turn to see the nutrition workers. Due to the big increase in the numbers of nutrition patients in all the CARE nutrition facilities, staff have had to designate specific days for the treatment of all of these different groups.

One by one the elderly amongst the line are called up by nutrition workers to the screening room while the rest wait their turn outside.  Next in the line is 75-year-old Nyegiel Thoang, guided by her granddaughter. Her arm is measured (one of the ways of assessing malnutrition) and staff confirm that she is indeed acutely malnourished and she is admitted into the nutrition programme.

Like many other people living in the displacement camps, the flooding has worsened the already dire humanitarian situation for those like Nyegiel. Unlike the young and energetic women who are able to carry firewood to the market in order to put food on the table, the elderly now depend entirely on the host families for their survival.

Inhabitants of Rubkona county traditionally practice agro-pastoralism, supplementing their diets through fishing and foraging. As a result of the recent floods many people lost everything including their cattle, property and crops. Nyegiel says “I don’t have a food ration card but I survive on the family that is hosting me. We came to Bentiu without anything, the floods destroyed everything. My garden was destroyed, even our animals were destroyed. When we came here we didn’t come with anything. All our property including saucepans were washed away. I am not healthy like before; I don’t drink cow’s milk any more, even the water in the camp is not safe.

As part of the Supplementary Feeding Programme Nyegiel will now receive a high-calorie Corn soya Blend to make porridge which will boost her nutrition status. Once her nutrition status improves, she will be discharged from the program and linked to general food rations and food security and livelihood activities where she will continue to get more support. Since the onset of the flooding crisis in Bentiu CARE has supported 493 elderly persons.