Since fighting erupted in Sudan, around 290,000 individuals have entered South Sudan—80% of them through Joda border in Upper Nile state. Over 90% of them are South Sudanese, arriving exhausted, unvaccinated and are extremely vulnerable.
In Upper Nile state, Renk is the busiest entry point to South Sudan where in the past few weeks, MSF teams have identified over 1,300 suspected measles cases. MSF is supporting Renk civil hospital in the measles isolation ward, an inpatient therapeutic feeding centre and a paediatric ward. In the wake of an influx of patients, the teams have expanded the capacity of the wards from 22 to 45 beds. Since July, MSF has admitted 232 patients for malnutrition and treated 282 cases of measles requiring hospital care. The young ones are the most affected, with more than 80% of the patients being children under four years. Less than 15% of them were ever vaccinated against measles. As these returnees are living together in congested transit centers and travelling in large numbers on crowded trucks or boats, the spread of the disease is enormous.
Severely sick patients are being transferred without provision of medical care to Malakal, a 48 to 72 hour journey by boats without medical care, water or food.
In view of the alarming influx of the measles patients, MSF teams have set up dedicated isolation wards in Renk and Bentiu, while the capacity of MSF facilities are expanded to treat more patients in Aweil, Leer and Malakal.
“Aid is woefully inadequate in Renk as compared to the needs that are growing every day. We are calling on the humanitarian and medical groups to do more by strengthening medical and humanitarian activities at the entry point and at transit centres. Basic healthcare services should be made available at all times on the border for those coming with medical conditions. A systematic vaccination catch-up should be also available 24/7 on the border given the current low vaccination coverage in Sudan and ongoing outbreak of measles in both countries,” says MSF head of mission in South Sudan, Jocelyn Yapi.
Amidst the rainy season, MSF medical facilities in the area are recording a 70 per cent positivity rate of malaria, a disease that already kills more people than any other in South Sudan.
“Malnourished children in particular must be given urgent nutritional support on the border and at once transferred to the medical facilities,” says Yapi. “Relief items such as mosquito nets, plastic sheets and other essential non-food items should be provided at the border so nobody who is in need is missed out.”
Years of conflict have already caused one of the world’s largest humanitarian crises in South Sudan. As the country already suffers from regular disease outbreaks, flooding, displacements and high rates of malnutrition, the arrival of returnees is another burden, and the current response is incapable to absorb additional needs. The country requires more attention and support to deal with the ongoing humanitarian crisis, and another emergency caused by the conflict in Sudan.