19 December 2023 - Sudan

The fight to save her son’s life: Jamaal and Nada’s story

Jamaal* (11 months) attends a Save the Children clinic in Sudan with his mother Nada* (30) to receive treatment for malnutrition (pre-surgery)

Jamaal* (11 months) attends a Save the Children clinic in Sudan with his mother Nada* (30) to receive treatment for malnutrition (pre-surgery). Save the Children

The baby's distress drew my attention despite the crowded clinic.

His cries reflected his immense pain. His severely swollen head – twice his body weight – must have been causing throbbing headaches and endless nausea.

His mother did her best to console him, holding him and making reassuring sounds. But as hard as she tried, she couldn't take away his pain.

I first met baby Jamaal* and his mother Nada* at a busy Save the Children clinic just south of Sudan's capital city, Khartoum.

Nada told me her family had been living under a tree for months. They were forced to flee their home in Khartoum soon after violent conflict broke out in April this year.

And with conflict still raging just a few hundred kilometres away, there is no chance of them returning home any time soon. Nada doesn't even know if their home still exists.

Jamaal – who was born just before the war started and is now 11 months old – had spina bifida and hydrocephalus at birth; a neurological disorder caused by an abnormal build-up of fluid in the brain.

Since then, Nada has been fighting hard for Jamaal to receive the surgery he desperately needs to drain the fluid and relieve the pressure. She told me she'd been advocating her son's case to anyone who would listen.

But the conflict in Sudan has brought the country's health system to its knees. Health workers, supplies and facilities continue to be targeted. Where health facilities remain open, a lack of medical supplies, including blood bags and oxygen, water, fuel and personnel are severely disrupting services.

And the National Health Insurance Scheme – which would have helped cover the cost of Jamaal's lifesaving operation and medication in public health facilities – has collapsed.

To make matters worse, Jamaal has become malnourished due to his family's dire living conditions and lack of access to nutritious food.

Despite receiving therapeutic food at the Save the Children clinic, Jamaal's condition was not improving, signalling that his health was deteriorating rapidly.

Seeing their desperate situation our teams did everything in their power to help Jamaal.

  • Our Emergency Health Unit organised a hospital referral for the surgery and a cash grant to pay for the operation, ongoing medication and transport to and from the hospital.
  • Our Food Security and Livelihoods team organised a rental home for the family to live for the next three months while Jamaal recuperates from the surgery.
  • Our nutrition team sourced the right therapeutic food Jamaal needs to gain weight and recover from malnutrition.

I was very emotional when I saw Jamaal after the surgery. The pressure on his head was going down and his eyes were clear and happy.

But the smile on Nada's face and the relief in her eyes – and her sheer determination to save her son's life against all the odds – is something I'll remember forever.

Save the Children is currently supporting 85 health facilities across Sudan and has deployed its Emergency Health Unit to work alongside local health workers in White Nile State and Al Gezira State to provide essential healthcare services for host communities and displaced people.

Services provided by the mobile clinics include treatment for diseases, vaccinations, maternal and child healthcare, the management of malnutrition cases and psychosocial support.

Save the Children's Emergency Health Unit provides children and their families with lifesaving, quality healthcare in some of the toughest and hardest-to-reach places in the world.

The Emergency Health Unit has teams of experts – including health professionals, water, sanitation and hygiene specialists and supply chain managers – who have decades of experience providing vital healthcare during conflicts, catastrophic natural hazards and disease outbreaks.

*Names changed to protect identities


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