The ongoing conflict in South Sudan has diverted the attention from ongoing regular healthcare concerns, such as the malaria epidemic affecting the west of the country. There have been insufficient distributions of anti-malarial drugs in many peripheral health centres. As a consequence, Médecins Sans Frontières / Doctors Without Borders (MSF) has reported an increase in the number of severe life-threatening cases of the disease.
Every year following South Sudan’s rainy season, mosquitoes multiply in the standing water and the number of malaria cases increases. This year, the epidemic is particularly widespread in the western parts of the country. Unusually prolonged and heavy rainfall in many areas and the lack of available treatments in some peripheral health centres means that many patients have had to travel long distances to MSF health structures in order to be treated. They arrive after hours or days of travel in serious medical condition.
Three times as many patients over last year
MSF health facilties in Aweil and Pamat in Northern Bahr el Ghazal state, Gogrial in Warrap state, Yambio in Western Equatoria state and Agok in Abyei territory have treated nearly 60,000 patients since the beginning of the year, more than triple the number of patients seen during the same period last year. More than ten per cent of those patients have been hospitalized.
" MSF cannot cover all the needs in Northern Bahr el Ghazal, Warrap, Western Equatoria states and Abyei territory," says Renee Madrolle, MSF’s project coordinator in Aweil. "More international health actors must be mobilized alongside the Ministry of Health to provide access to anti-malarial treatment to the population.”
'Patients die, but they could have been easily saved if they had had access to treatment earlier'
Partner organizations with the Ministry of Health have been unable to effectively distribute diagnostics, rapid tests and drugs as a result to the ongoing conflict in South Sudan, as well as structural problems in the supply chain. Many medicines could not be delivered at the beginning of the rainy season in late May, when the first spike of malaria cases occurred. There were also not enough drugs available for a comprehensive distribution in peripheral health centres, resulting in large areas badly affected by malaria but with no access to treatment.
MSF urgently scaling up its response
In reponse to these needs, MSF has sent emergency shipments of extra malaria tests and treatments to most of the MSF projects in the west of the country, where the malaria outbreak is worst.
In September alone, MSF treated more than 10,000 cases of malaria in the western part of South Sudan. That month, 71 per cent of cases in the pediatric department in Aweil hosptal were malaria.
"Some patients die, but they could have been easily saved if they had had access to treatment earlier," says Madrolle. "Malaria is the first cause of mortality in Aweil during the rainy season, and children are the most affected."
MSF currently has 25 projects in in 9 of the 10 states of South Sudan. It employs 3,300 national staff and 350 international staff to carry out its mission.