UNHCR and partners race to reverse alarming health situation in South Sudan camps

Briefing Notes, 3 August 2012

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Melissa Fleming to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 3 August 2012, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

In South Sudan, UNHCR and partners are intensifying efforts to reverse the alarming rates of malnutrition, disease and death in two camps hosting Sudanese refugees.

Health workers in Yida camp in Unity state first saw a significant increase in death rates among refugee children in late June and early July. MSF reported an average of five children dying every day, mostly from diarrhea and infections.

In the last three weeks, mortality and morbidity rates have started to stabilize, as aid agencies took urgent action to address the root causes. In addition to providing emergency treatment, the aid agencies are also working to mitigate the risk of water-borne and hygiene-related diseases. However, intensive efforts need to continue.

UNHCR has so far dug two out of the six additional boreholes that will double the supply of potable water in Yida. Together with the NGO Solidarites, we have been conducting a 40-day bucket cleaning and chlorination campaign at water points. Drainage systems are being improved at all seven water points to reduce the risk of contamination and water-borne diseases from standing water. We are promoting hygiene practices throughout the camp and have distributed some of the 7 tons of soap that were airlifted from Bentiu. Community latrines are being built to meet the needs of the growing population.

Today UNHCR will begin distributing more soap, jerry cans and blankets to over 8,200 families with children under the age of five. We are targeting the most vulnerable refugees in the camp to improve sanitization and minimize the risk of respiratory infections in these households. The distribution of other supplies such as plastic sheeting and buckets will continue throughout the month.

Nonetheless, the challenges remain daunting in Yida. This remote border camp now hosts some 60,000 refugees from Sudan's South Kordofan state, a four-fold increase since April. Children form more than a quarter of this population.

Most refugees have been arriving in a very weak state exhausted, dehydrated and malnourished. The rainy season has exacerbated the situation, bringing seasonal diseases to an already fragile population. The rains have also flooded nearby roads and turned Yida into a virtual island. Airlifts are now the only way to get life-saving aid into the camp.

In fact, UNHCR is now planning to airlift an additional 8,500 plastic sheets and 15,000 mosquito nets for immediate distribution to the new arrivals. Many are currently sleeping under poorly-thatched roofs, which increase the risk of respiratory illnesses and malaria particularly among children under five.

Meanwhile in Upper Nile state, one in three children is believed to be malnourished in Batil camp. Common health problems in this camp of 35,000 refugees include watery diarrhea, respiratory tract infections and increasingly, malaria.

To address the high malnutrition rates, aid agencies started a blanket supplementary feeding across the camp last Sunday, followed by a targetted supplementary feeding program to help children recover from moderate acute malnutrition. In addition, some 12 per cent of children under five are receiving treatment for severe acute malnutrition.

In total, Batil has five clinics for health and nutrition treatments, and 20 oral rehydration points throughout the camp. The health agencies have set up surveillance and response mechanisms for possible outbreaks of diarrhoeal and other diseases.

Stats update South Sudan is now hosting 170,000 Sudanese refugees. More are arriving from South Kordofan and Blue Nile every day to find challenging living conditions as aid agencies struggle to cope with immense logistical problems.

Funding update In a welcome development this week, the Common Humanitarian Fund allocated US$10 million to the refugee emergency in South Sudan, mostly to NGOs working in the areas of health, nutrition, water, sanitation, road access and site preparation. UNHCR has only received US $47.5 million out of the US$ 186 million it needs to meet the urgent needs of the Sudanese refugees in South Sudan.

For further information on this topic, please contact:

  • In Nairobi (UNHCR regional hub): Millicent Mutuli on mobile + 251 735 337608
  • In Juba: Terry Ongaro on mobile: +211 927 770 040
  • In Geneva, Fatoumata Lejeune-Kaba on mobile +41 79 249 3483
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Public Health

The health of refugees and other displaced people is a priority for UNHCR.

Health crisis in South Sudan

There are roughly 105,000 refugees in South Sudan's Maban County. Many are at serious health risk. UNHCR and its partners are working vigorously to prevent and contain the outbreak of malaria and several water-borne diseases.

Most of the refugees, especially children and the elderly, arrived at the camps in a weakened condition. The on-going rains tend to make things worse, as puddles become incubation areas for malaria-bearing mosquitoes. Moderately malnourished children and elderly can easily become severely malnourished if they catch so much as a cold.

The problems are hardest felt in Maban County's Yusuf Batil camp, where as many as 15 per cent of the children under 5 are severely malnourished.

UNHCR and its partners are doing everything possible to prevent and combat illness. In Yusuf Batil camp, 200 community health workers go from home to home looking educating refugees about basic hygene such as hand washing and identifying ill people as they go. Such nutritional foods as Plumpy'nut are being supplied to children who need them. A hospital dedicated to the treatment of cholera has been established. Mosquito nets have been distributed throughout the camps in order to prevent malaria.

Health crisis in South Sudan

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It is one of the most inhospitable environments UNHCR has ever had to work in. Vast distances, extremely poor road conditions, scorching daytime temperatures, sandstorms, the scarcity of vegetation and firewood, and severe shortages of drinkable water have been major challenges since the beginning of the operation. Now, heavy seasonal rains are falling, cutting off the few usable roads, flooding areas where refugees had set up makeshift shelters, and delaying the delivery of relief supplies.

Despite the enormous environmental challenges, UNHCR has so far managed to establish nine camps and relocate the vast majority of the refugees who are willing to move from the volatile border.

Battling the Elements in Chad

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