“Had these people not received treatment they would have died,” explains Dr. Dagemlidet Worku, MSF Field Coordinator. “Working in this hospital, we will be able to save hundreds of lives each year.” Dr. Worku is referring to the 400 kala-azar patients treated by a joint MSF & Ministry of Health team during the first two months of opening the new kala-azar treatment centre. The project is situated in the remote village of Tabarak Allah, in Al-Gedaref State, situated 550 km southeast of the capital Khartoum. This part of Sudan, the Atbara region, is one of the most kala-azar endemic regions in the world. Kala-azar, also known as Visceral Leishmaniasis, is a parasitic disease caused by a bite from a sand fly, and is deadly if not treated. The area’s 460,000 inhabitants live in vulnerable conditions, most of them depending on farming to survive. “Before MSF’s arrival, we didn’t have enough drugs,” explains Dr. Abubakar, a Ministry of Health medical doctor working in Tabarak Allah Hospital. “Only those who could afford it would travel and stay one month in remote towns to get a treatment. The others asked me for pain killers they could take until the hospital received more kala-azar drugs.” The treatment consists of a daily injection for a period of 30 days. The cost of the first-line drug is about 50 dollars per treatment. It is now provided for free in the public hospital where MSF is working.
© Asia Kambal/MSF A young kala-azar patient taken in charge by MSF medical staff.
Ammar Omar Abdu Dana, nine years old, has been diagnosed with kala-azar and will begin treatment immediately. “After two hours of walking Ammar was so tired that he could no longer continue on his feet,” said Ammar’s father. “So I rented a donkey and put him on it until we reached Tabarak Allah Hospital. MSF’s Kala Azar Treatment Center is very popular.” Beyond providing kala-azar treatment, MSF also works in collaboration with the Sudanese Ministry of Health, along with national and international institutions, to conduct research to improve the treatment and diagnosis of kala-azar. MSF will assist in training Sudanese health professionals and is already providing the drugs and medical supplies needed to treat this deadly disease. MSF will be building and equipping a laboratory, delivery room, and inpatient departments for kala-azar patients, in order to improve medical activities in the government hospital.