Sudan's infant malnutrition and mortality rates are among the highest in the world. Wherever international aid agencies operate, they make a difference in saving lives and creating healthier babies. Lisa Schlein visited a Global Health Project program run by the international charity CARE. She reports for VOA the program was started in 1992, in Mayo Farm, one of four official IDP (Internally Displaced Persons) camps on the outskirts of the Sudanese capital Khartoum.
The malnourished babies look lethargic, but their mothers do not. They are actively and energetically participating in a class on the proper care and feeding of their infants. Discussions, demonstrations and song are all part of the teaching mix.
Director-General of the Global Health Care Foundation, Yahia Abugrain shows visitors around the health center. He explains many children are malnourished because the mothers do not know how to feed them.
"Come here. This is a very important department. We call it a cultural. And, they prepare the food for the malnourished. They show the mothers how to prepare the food and how they offer the meal. And, they tell the pregnant women also how they care about their kids and the malnourished especially. And, then we work on combating AIDS," he said. "So we have very simple songs about the AIDS, how they just prevent, protect themselves."
Mayo Farm is a sprawling IDP camp. It has an estimated population of 90,000. Most of the people are from southern Sudan and the Nuba Mountains Areas.
The people are extremely poor. Nearly half the households are headed by women. Basic services are very limited. Hygiene and sanitation are big concerns. Only 50 percent of the families living in the camp have access to pit latrines.
There are only three health clinics set up to care for the entire population.
One of them, says Dr. Abugrain, is run by the Global Health Care Foundation.
"We are offering mainly the basic health care here, plus care for pregnant mother, the lactation and children with malnutrition, plus the medical care of the people around here," he said. "We are serving around 40,000 people just around here. Mainly, we are concentrating on malnutrition and ante-natal care in this camp."
Nutritionist for Care International, Hanadi Omer, says CARE has succeeded in reducing the number of severely malnourished children in the camp. The biggest problem now, she says, is to bring down the large number of moderately malnourished children.
"So, we are starting to give food and to give health education for the mothers to know how to prepare food in the good way, how to give the healthy food to children," she said. "We give also information about sanitation, about health, about how to treat diarrhea. All this will reduce the number of moderately malnourished children."
Women gather around to soothe the baby. Her mother, 32-year old Regina Bol, says her baby is moderately malnourished and needs special food.
She says her child is malnourished and that is why she brings her here, so her health can improve ... She said the child was sick and she has no money to buy drugs and that was why she was told to bring the child here."
Regina Bol has five children. She fled the war in the South and came to Mayo Camp 10 years ago. Now that the war is over, she says she and her husband want to go home.
When the rainy season is over, she is ready to go back ... If they go to the South, they are going to start cultivating their normal life because it is their place of origin ... She is going to educate her children so that they have a brighter future ... Life here is different. In the South, they can get the opportunity to work, to cultivate. But, here they are staying, there are no jobs. This is the difference.
Gadallah Elradi is a Public Information Officer for UNMIS, the U.N. Mission in Sudan. He says he has seen a lot of families go back to their homes in the south only to be disappointed and to come back.
"From the few who have been able, for example, to go back to the south, so many families have come back to Khartoum because they find it difficult to live there as they have no services, no schools, no basic infrastructure. Simply they went back and they found nothing," he said. "So, they have to make their mind to come again here."
Elradi says people will have to see real change take place in their home areas before they are willing to go home and stay home.