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Malnourished children in South Sudan

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London - Over 1,100 children are at this moment being treated for malnutrition in seven MSF feeding centres in Bahr El Ghazal, South Sudan and at least three more therapeutic (intensive) feeding centres will be opened in the next couple of weeks.

In the past two months around 7,000 children under five years old were treated at MSF health centres. All were screened for malnutrition and 35% of children under five years old were severely malnourished or under 70% of the weight they should be for their height. Teams in the field are receiving five-month-old children who are only 50cm long and weigh around 2kg, which is less than the average birth weight and measurement of a baby born in Europe.

MSF's head of mission for Bahr El Ghazal, Marc Hermant said: "Because these people are weakened by hunger, they are even more at risk of dying from easily preventable diseases such as diarrhoea and malaria; this is why we need to bring as many supplies as possible while it is still possible to fly".

Medical and nutritional supplies needed include medicines, milk, sugar, oil and high protein biscuits, cups, spoons, plastic bracelets and weighing scales. Most children are treated for an average of one month before they are healthy enough to leave the feeding centres.

About 350,000 people are currently at risk in the region, including 120,000 people displaced by the recent fighting and now unable to harvest their crops. All are suffering from the effects of last year's poor harvest, irregular rain-fall and years of war. When fresh fighting erupted in late January, the Khartoum government allowed no relief flights into Bahr El Ghazal for several weeks. Flights have now resumed, but there are no guarantees as to how much longer the government will grant flight clearances.

Traditionally, the two months before the late summer harvest are the "hunger gap", when people are most dependent on aid, but this year it began as early as March because of the drought and fighting.

MSF has the largest medical presence throughout Bahr El Ghazal, and is running twelve primary health centres and aims to vaccinate all the children under five against a potentially deadly measles epidemic. 4,000 have already been vaccinated in the past two months.