UNHCR says South Sudan refugee health situation alarming

Briefing Notes, 24 August 2012

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 24 August 2012, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

With 170,000 Sudanese refugees now in camps and settlements across South Sudan's Unity and Upper Nile states, the health situation among this population has become a matter of alarm to us. With the current rain and cold, we are seeing refugees suffering from respiratory tract infections, diarrhoea and malaria.

In Upper Nile, nearly half the refugees are under the age of 11. This is an unusually large proportion in refugee emergencies, and this age group is suffering the most. Their mothers or other caregivers are often also sick and weak, and cannot look after them properly.

In Yusuf Batil, a camp hosting 34,000 Sudanese from Blue Nile State, fifteen percent of children under five (or nearly 1,600 children) are severely malnourished. They are now being treated under a special program to restore them to health.

UNHCR and its partners have this month launched an extensive health and hygiene outreach programme. We are putting particular emphasis on good basic hygiene. We are trying to impress upon refugees the importance of fundamentals like hand-washing, collecting water in clean buckets and jerry-cans and not defecating in the open. We are continuing to build latrines in all five camps in an attempt to keep pace with new arrivals. All agencies have struggled to maintain adequate hygiene and sanitation, with the number of refugees having increased dramatically from 99,000 in April to the current almost 170,000.

For further information on this topic, please contact:

  • In Nairobi (UNHCR regional hub): Kitty Mckinsey on mobile +254 735 337 608
  • In Juba: Terry Ongaro on mobile: +211 927 770 040
  • In Geneva, Fatoumata Lejeune-Kaba on mobile +41 79 249 3483



UNHCR country pages

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

Bonga Camp, Ethiopia

Bonga camp is located in the troubled Gambella region of western Ethiopia. But it remains untouched by the ethnic conflicts that have torn nearby Gambella town and Fugnido camp in the last year.

For Bonga's 17,000 Sudanese refugees, life goes on despite rumblings in the region. Refugee children continue with school and play while their parents make ends meet by supplementing UNHCR assistance with self-reliance projects.

Cultural life is not forgotten, with tribal ceremonies by the Uduk majority. Other ethnic communities – Shuluks, Nubas and Equatorians – are welcome too, judging by how well hundreds of newcomers have settled in after their transfer from Fugnido camp in late 2002.

Bonga Camp, Ethiopia

Southerners on the move before Sudanese vote

Ahead of South Sudan's landmark January 9, 2011 referendum on independence, tens of thousands of southern Sudanese in the North packed their belongings and made the long trek south. UNHCR set up way stations at key points along the route to provide food and shelter to the travellers during their arduous journey. Several reports of rapes and attacks on travellers reinforced the need for these reception centres, where women, children and people living with disabilities can spend the night. UNHCR has made contingency plans in the event of mass displacement after the vote, including the stockpiling of shelter and basic provisions for up to 50,000 people.

Southerners on the move before Sudanese vote

Chad: Health for allPlay video

Chad: Health for all

Refugees in southern Chad receive health care under a European Union-funded programme. A new clinic tackles malaria, malnutrition, respiratory infections and more.
Jordan: Getting Health CarePlay video

Jordan: Getting Health Care

In Jordan's Za'atri Refugee Camp, dust and heat are taking their toll, especially on young children.
South Sudan: Providing Health CarePlay video

South Sudan: Providing Health Care

Mobile clinics and hundred of community workers are mobilized to bring health care to the refugees in Yusuf Batil Refugee Camp.