13 June 2012

South Sudan: Dire Medical Needs in Under-Prepared Refugee Camps

press release

Juba, 13 June 2012 — Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) warns of dire medical consequences as tens of thousands of new refugees crossing from Sudan into South Sudan find refugee camps full and unable to provide the basic life-sustaining essentials.

The situation in Upper Nile and Unity states is rapidly developing into a full-blown crisis as water supplies start to run out and relief is wholly insufficient. For people arriving in an already weakened state, and when shelter, food and water are lacking, medical care is not enough.

In Upper Nile state around 35,000 refugees crossed the border over a three-week period, to find the existing refugee camps overcrowded and already struggling to provide enough water for the 70,000 refugees in the area.

The new arrivals initially gathered at a temporary site but the water ran out and, over Monday night, the 15,000 refugees remaining at this location walked 25 km to the nearest location with available water. "We went early on Tuesday morning to provide medical assistance and rehydration points along the route," says Dr Erna Rijnierse of MSF.

"It was a truly shocking sight as we witnessed some of the weakest dying as they walked - too dehydrated for even the most urgent medical care to save them." The situation for these refugees could not be more urgent and they need to be provided with a place that has water, shelter and food as soon as possible.

In Unity state, the refugee camp at Yida has expanded dramatically over the past two months to around 50,000, with up to a thousand new refugees arriving daily.

"At this point what concerns us most in Yida is that half of our consultations are for water-borne illnesses that are easily preventable with proper hygiene, sanitation and availability of potable water," says André Heller Perrache, MSF head of mission in South Sudan. "We see many patients, mainly children for whom diarrhoea can be life-threatening, continue to come back to the hospital to be treated several times. We are also seeing increasing malnutrition."

Many of the new arrivals from Sudan have walked for many days or even weeks and are in a worse health condition than refugees that have crossed the border in the past few months.

Despite the efforts of the few organisations present, the conditions and facilities are completely insufficient to cope with the needs of the refugees already living in the camps, let alone the increased number of new arrivals.

The start of the rainy season adds to the urgency. "As the rainy season intensifies, the situation for the refugees is becoming increasingly precarious," says Heller Perrache. "Some crucial access roads are already becoming unusable and MSF urgently calls upon aid organisations involved in providing the basic minimum services to catch up with the ever increasing camp populations."

MSF is running a large programme in the refugee camps, with more than 50 international staff and just over 300 South Sudanese staff present. In total, MSF is carrying out more than 6,500 consultations per week, including urgent medical care for the most critically ill.

MSF has also engaged in the prevention of disease outbreaks by conducting measles vaccination campaigns for children under 15. At various temporary points in Upper Nile state MSF is treating and distributing water, but the available water will run out soon. "That's why it is so important that more organisations get involved in trying to move the refugees to more suitable locations and provide appropriate conditions in the existing camps without delay," adds Rijnierse.

MSF/Erwin van 't Land - Doctor Erna Rijnierse checking young patients in the queue for consultations to see who needs to take priority. She check for fevers, severe malnourishment and obvious signs of other critical conditions. The clip was shot at the MSF clinic at "Km18", along the road from the border to Jamam. An estimated 30,000 to 35,000 refugees have gathered here. While many have found some kind of shelter, many others remain unprotected against the elements. MSF is providing water from a basin. That basin is expected to run dry in around two weeks, making this camp, strewn along 4 kilometers of the road, not a solution in the mid term.

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