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Health conditions worsen as displacement from Sudan conflict exceeds 4 million

Briefing notes

Health conditions worsen as displacement from Sudan conflict exceeds 4 million

8 August 2023 Also available in:
A nurse tends to a baby with its mother in a clinic in Sudan

A nurse tends to a baby at risk of measles in a health centre in the Um Sangour refugee camp in Kosti, White Nile State, Sudan.

GENEVA — With more than 4 million people now forcibly displaced by the Sudan crisis, UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, is deeply worried about deteriorating health conditions across the country, including in refugee camps as well as at border entry points and transit centres in neighbouring countries, where people forced to flee are arriving.

The situation inside Sudan, where UNHCR teams are present, is untenable as needs far outweigh what is humanly possible to deliver with available resources. In White Nile state, a lack of essential medicines, staff and supplies is severely hampering health and nutrition services in all 10 refugee camps, where over 144,000 newly displaced refugees from Khartoum have arrived since the conflict started, joining thousands of South Sudanese refugees and the local communities who access the same clinics. Mental health and psychosocial support services are also virtually nonexistent.

As many families have been on the move for weeks – with very little food or medicine – rising malnutrition rates, disease outbreaks and related deaths continue to be observed. Between 15 May and 17 July, over 300 deaths, mainly among children under 5 years, were reported due to measles and malnutrition. If funding for life-saving health programmes continues to be delayed, this figure will likely increase.

Chronic shortages in health staff, as well as attacks on personnel as reported by the World Health Organization, have significantly compromised the quality of health care across the country. Analysis by UNHCR teams in White Nile shows that there are at least 70 patients per clinician per day, above what is medically recommended, and a clear demonstration of services being stretched thin. Ruptured supply chains have meant that medicine and other supplies are running low for hundreds of thousands of people in desperate need.

In addition, more cholera and malaria cases are expected in the coming months due to flooding from the continuing rains and inadequate sanitation facilities.

Across borders, the situation is equally grim. The health and nutrition status of those arriving from Sudan has deteriorated sharply since the conflict started in April and continues to worsen. Underfunding severely hampers the response in South Sudan, where 57 children, the majority under 5 years old, have died from measles and malnutrition in Renk. Of these, 15 died in the last week.

Similarly, in Chad, only 17 mobile clinics are operational across 15 locations at the border sites and refugee camps where people are arriving. Over 2,400 wounded refugees and returnees have so far arrived, requiring urgent medical attention, with approximately 130 casualties admitted daily in June.

Together with health partners and government authorities, UNHCR is making efforts to scale up the response. Humanitarian agencies have deployed additional staff and volunteers in the camps, border entry points and transit centres to support with malnutrition screening and other services. Teams are also providing medical kits, increasing measles vaccinations for children and rehabilitating existing facilities while setting up new ones. Additionally, we are doing all we can to quickly relocate new arrivals from border entry points and transit centres to avoid overcrowding and curb the spread of deadly diseases. However, we need more donor support to save lives.

Over 4 million people have been forced to flee within Sudan and into neighbouring countries since the start of the conflict. This includes nearly 700,000 refugees and asylum-seekers who fled to neighboring countries, and 195,000 South Sudanese forced to return to South Sudan. Within Sudan, over 3.2 million people have been internally displaced, including more than 187,000 refugees already residing in the country at the start of the crisis.

More funds are desperately needed to support the provision of health care and other live-saving aid. Of the US$566 million required by UNHCR and other partners for the Regional Refugee Response Plan (RRRP) to provide assistance in countries neighbouring Sudan, just 29 per cent has been received. The inter-agency response inside Sudan is only 24 per cent funded.

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