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Most narrators say people had better health in the past, and ascribe this predominantly to a diet in which milk and meat products featured strongly, as well as a wider variety of grains and vegetables.

Today, says Naema, malnutrition, diarrhoea and malaria are all on the increase. Fatima talks about the sheer exhaustion women suffer as a result of hard labour and poor nutrition.

Widad says the poor nutrition is having an impact, but that they are is powerless to improve the situation: “…the bodies of children are weak, and the newborn are underweight. We listen to the radio, and we know the type of food we should eat, but we can’t provide it because of lack of money.”

discusses health issues in some detail, including the prevalence of goitre among women. This enlargement of the thyroid gland, which can be caused by lack of iodine, is also remarked upon by Widad. One improvement in community health that Ismail emphasises is that local traditional midwives are now properly trained.

However, with health problems on the increase, there are major financial implications since access to treatment involves costly transportation. The problem, Ismail says, is that “sickness comes suddenly without any arrangement or calculation”; people do help each other but families still have to find the money for transport and are then left in debt.


Health is a key theme of the Desert voices: Sudan oral testimony project.


El Emam: no man remains

El Nour: inside my heart

Fatima: women are exhausted

Ismail: broader horizons

Madinah: progress is possible

Mekki: migration for survival

Naema: nothing the same

Osman: make land productive

Sayda: women’s lives

Widad: restoring the village

Key themes

Introduction to the project




Social change




Natural resources



Food security

Mutual support

Looking ahead