19 September 2023: Geneva, Switzerland: UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, and the World Health Organization (WHO) are again sounding the alarm on the worsening health situation caused by the Sudan crisis.
According to UNHCR teams in Sudan’s White Nile state, more than 1,200 refugee children under five have died in nine camps in the period between 15 May and 14 September, due to a deadly combination of a suspected measles outbreak and high malnutrition. Over 3,100 suspected cases were also reported in the same period and more than 500 suspected cases of cholera have been reported in other parts of the country, along with outbreaks of dengue and malaria, in a context of increased epidemic risk and challenges for epidemic control.
“The world has the means and the money to prevent every one of these deaths from measles or malnutrition,” the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, said today. “And yet dozens of children are dying every day – a result of this devastating conflict and a lack of global attention. We can prevent more deaths, but need money for the response, access to those in need, and above all, an end to the fighting.”
Health facilities are at breaking point, due to shortages of staff, life-saving medicine and critical equipment, exacerbating current outbreaks and causing unnecessary deaths. Repeated attacks on health since the beginning of the conflict, including on personnel, patients and transportation of medical supplies, are also restricting the delivery of health services.
“Local health workers, with the help of WHO and partners, are doing all they can, in very difficult conditions. But they desperately need the support of the international community to prevent further deaths and the spread of outbreaks”, said WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “We call on donors to be generous and on the warring parties to protect health workers and access to health for all those who need it.”
In Renk, South Sudan, humanitarian partners report increasing cases of children arriving with measles and high rates of malnutrition from Sudan, mainly from White Nile. The malnutrition situation in the country is deepening at a rapid scale. Across South Sudan, over 5770 suspected cases of measles have been reported with 142 deaths. Children younger than five are worst impacted, accounting for nearly 70% of all cases and 76% of all deaths. Half of the affected children were unvaccinated against measles, highlighting gaps in immunization, especially amongst returnees and refugees. On average 103 children per month were admitted in health facilities for moderate or severe malnutrition between May and July, up from 14 total admissions before the conflict.
The situation is just as worrisome in Ethiopia’s Amhara region where a cholera outbreak in Metema is fast evolving in sites hosting over 18,000 people who have fled the conflict in Sudan. As of 12 September, eight people have died from cholera among 435 reported suspected cases. Cholera vaccine stocks for routine immunization are also running low, putting refugees at risk of further infections. The lack of ambulances to transport and refer patients for further care, insufficient medical equipment for treatment and a shortage of critical health staff are putting lives at risk and seriously hampering the humanitarian response.
In a recent screening exercise in Chad, nearly 13,000 children below five were found to be acutely malnourished. The number of children with malnutrition being admitted to hospitals has increased by 56% across the province of Ouaddai, which is hosting more than 80% of the refugees, since the beginning of the conflict in Sudan. The high prevalence of malnutrition among incoming refugees reflects the very dire situation of the people in Darfur, fleeing across to Chad. In addition, acute respiratory infections, diarrhoea, and malaria remain the three most frequent illnesses among children. Access to clean drinking water is also a major challenge, with families only receiving five litres per person, only one-third of what is recommended.
UNHCR, WHO and partners are working to provide in urgent assistance inside Sudan and across borders and prevent more deaths. Food distribution is ongoing and measles vaccinations have been provided for children under 5 years old in the camps in Blue and White Nile states vaccinating over 53,000 children under 5 years old. In Chad, two measles vaccination campaigns have already reached 1.2 million children. WHO and partners have also launched an oral cholera vaccination campaign in Amhara, Ethiopia over the weekend.
WHO is also supporting stabilization centres through the provision of supplies for the treatment of severe malnutrition. WHO has provided urgently needed health supplies across South Sudan, Ethiopia and Chad, including essential medicines, medical supplies for the treatment of cholera, malnutrition and tents for mobile health clinics. Reproductive health kits, mental health care and psychosocial support are also being prioritised. In Ethiopia, Cholera kits have been dispatched to Metema and an isolation tent and a nursing station are being installed.