An unprecedented malaria outbreak affecting Northern Bahr-el-Ghazal state since May has been brought under control, international medical-humanitarian organisation Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) said today.
Between March and August, MSF hospitalised 1612 children with malaria - compared to 688 for the same period last year - in Aweil Civil Hospital, where the organisation runs the paediatric and maternity departments. In September, the mortality rate from malaria in the paediatric ward skyrocketed to eight percent, but was quickly brought down to what is considered acceptable levels.
"Malaria has really been overwhelming health facilities in and around Aweil this year", says MSF Project Coordinator Abdelkader Tlidjane. "The particularly heavy rains began earlier than usual and the organisations distributing mosquito nets were not able to distribute them before the spread had taken on epidemic proportions. Also, the population of Aweil has grown significantly since last year, with approximately 100,000 people having returned here from Sudan. These returnees can have lower immunity to the disease and be more likely to develop it."
MSF launched an emergency malaria intervention, which has now successfully brought the epidemic under control. In addition to strengthening services at Aweil Civil Hospital, MSF has been running mobile malaria clinics in Apada and Maperkot villages since the beginning of September. The organisation has also provided material support to four health facilities in Arroyo, Akuem, Malek Alel and Bar Mayen where, in just one month, rapid diagnostic tests confirmed more than 2,000 positive malaria cases. MSF provided logistical support to the state Ministry of Health to assist with the transportation of 140,900 doses of anti-malarial drugs to Northern Bahr-el-Ghazal and then helped organise their distribution to 87 health facilities in the area. The organisation also participated in drawing up a coordinated action plan with the other health actors in the state involved in combating malaria, including the Ministry of Health.
"This year's significant malaria spike has not been limited to Northern Bahr-el-Ghazal", says MSF Head of Mission Philippe le Vaillant. "We have also seen a sharp increase in malaria cases in many of our health facilities across South Sudan. The disease has a huge impact on the population and places a tremendous burden on the health system."
From January to September 2012, MSF teams have treated 15,733 cases of malaria in Yambio, Western Equatoria state, compared to 11,289 cases for the same period last year. In Lankien, Jonglei state, MSF has treated 7280 cases of malaria, compared to 1445 cases for the same period last year, representing a 404 percent increase.
Following an assessment of health facilities in Lakes state, MSF has also deployed a team to respond to the annual peak of malaria there. MSF is providing material support to 11 health facilities around the state, including Rumbek Hospital, with monthly donations of drugs, rapid diagnostic tests and mosquito nets, as well as monitoring and regular follow up.
Spikes of malaria generally start in May and begin to subside in September and October, reaching their lowest point in December. While MSF's malaria activities are now declining in line with the epidemic, they remain more intensive than during the same period in previous years and will most likely remain so until December.
MSF encourages all concerned actors, including donors, Ministries of Health and non-government organisations, to be prepared for the 2013 malaria season, by ensuring adequate supplies of drugs and diagnostic tests are available in all health facilities and treated mosquito nets are distributed to people before it is too late to halt an epidemic.
So far in 2012, MSF has treated more than 95,000 cases of malaria in South Sudan. MSF has been working in the area that now constitutes the Republic of South Sudan since 1983. The organisation currently operates 13 medical projects across eight of the country's ten states, as well as one in the transitional area of Abyei, providing services including primary and secondary healthcare, surgery, treatment and vaccination against infectious diseases, emergency shelter, non-food item and water provision in crisis situations, epidemiological investigation and emergency response to violence, displacement and disease outbreaks.