Disease stalks children at S Sudan refugee camp
Yida, South Sudan: In a hospital bed in a South Sudan refugee camp, even the tiniest movement causes four-year-old Daniel to cry out in pain.
Cracked skin from the swelling that comes with severe malnutrition covers most of his small, fragile body.
Taken by his father, fleeing civil war in Sudan’s South Kordofan state, to the impoverished Yida refugee camp across the border in South Sudan, Daniel is described as “a typical case” by aid workers here.
“He was eating, and then he began to grow a big stomach and get diarrhoea,” said his father Kamal Abulila, who was watching over his sickly son in the clinic run by Doctors Without Borders (MSF).
Conditions in this malaria-infested and swampy land are grim, a perfect breeding ground for the clouds of flies that descend constantly on weakened children.
About 62 000 people are now crammed into Yida in Unity state, fleeing bombs and hunger in Sudan’s former breadbasket state, where Khartoum has been battling rebels for more than a year.
More than 170 000 Sudanese have fled across the dangerous and volatile border into South Sudan – which won independence in July 2011, just a month after the conflict erupted – as government troops try to crush ethnic insurgents fighting for greater autonomy.
Rains cut off access to trucks and runways, forcing the UN’s World Food Programme to use airdrops before stocks run out in a string of camps along the border.
From the air, the camp is a sprawling mass of seemingly organised white and blue dots of plastic sheeting and straw huts.
On the ground, the stench of human waste follows you wherever you go.
MSF Emergency Co-ordinator Foura Sassou said the main problems in the camp were now diarrhoea and malaria.
Other clinics say that a gradual improvement in the health situation has been seen since the easing of torrential rains.
As a result, the once stinking pools of water clogged with the faeces of thousands without proper toilets had turned to dust.
Health worker Karen Daniels, at a clinic run by aid agency Samaritan’s Purse, said staff had been treating “horrible prolific diarrhoea all over for about two months”.
“That seemed to turn a lot of kids who were on the cusp of malnutrition into being severely malnourished,” Daniels said.
The charity has started chlorinating water, as well as teaching people about health and hygiene.
“I think it’s working,” said Daniels, adding that the number of moderately malnourished was slowly overtaking the severe cases.
At MSF’s clinic, “the number of deaths are decreasing because we are increasing the number of staff and our facilities”, but cases of malaria are on the rise, Sassou says.
“We are just sleeping on the ground with nothing to lie on or cover us,” said Huwa Kua Tejni, as she hovers between beds where her malnourished three and five-year-old daughters lie.
“There is so much rain and so many mosquitoes,” she added, the hacking cough of the youngest cutting through wails and sniffles in the tent.
In nearby beds, tiny babies with wrinkled skin and hands look enormous in foil sheets covering them to help bring down fever.
“The food is not enough,” Tejni added. “We just eat these grains, with water or salt, no sauce, and some paste cooked with leaves.”
The UN has voiced concern about the health of refugees at the Yida camp, and more than 100 000 others in neighbouring Upper Nile state, who fled south after the conflict spread to Sudan’s Blue Nile state last September.
At Yida camp, women like Tejni say that she and her five children use the bush as the toilets are too far away. Her husband has left to look for work to try to help the family.
At a women’s day centre run by International Rescue Committee, charity workers say that many women, who are at the camp without their men, are afraid to go out after dark. – Sapa-AFP