Over 1,200 Children Died of Suspected Measles Outbreak in War-Torn Sudan
Over 1,200 Children Died of Suspected Measles Outbreak in War-Torn Sudan

By Aldgra Fredly

Over 1,200 children have died in refugee camps in Sudan due to a suspected measles outbreak and malnutrition amid heavy fighting between the army and a rival paramilitary group, according to the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) and the World Health Organization (WHO).

The deaths occurred in nine refugee camps in Sudan’s White Nile State between May 15 and Sept. 14, affecting children under the age of 5, the UNHCR and WHO said in a joint statement on Sept. 19.

There were over 3,100 suspected cases of measles and malnutrition, as well as more than 500 suspected cases of cholera in other parts of the African country. At least eight people have died from cholera, an intestinal infection.

“Dozens of children are dying every day—a result of this devastating conflict and a lack of global attention,” U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said in a statement.

The country’s malnutrition situation has been deepening rapidly, with over 5,770 suspected cases of measles and 142 deaths being reported across South Sudan, according to the agencies.

Nearly 70 percent of the cases involved children under the age of 5, with half of the affected children being unvaccinated against measles. The agencies said this highlighted gaps in immunization among returnees and refugees in Sudan.

“On average, 103 children per month were admitted to health facilities for moderate or severe malnutrition between May and July, up from 14 total admissions before the conflict,” they stated.

Health Facilities Under ‘Immense Pressure’

There have also been reports of dengue and malaria outbreaks in Sudan. The country’s health facilities are under “immense pressure” due to shortages of staff, life-saving medicine, and critical equipment, the WHO and UNHCR said.

According to the agencies, repeated attacks on health facilities, staff, patients, and medical supply transportation since the beginning of the conflict have hampered the delivery of health services in Sudan.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that local health workers are making every effort “in very difficult conditions” to prevent further fatalities and escalation of outbreaks in Sudan.

“But they desperately need the support of the international community to prevent further deaths and the spread of outbreaks,” Mr. Ghebreyesus said.

“We call on donors to be generous and on the warring parties to protect health workers and access to health for all those who need it,” he added.

In addition, the agencies noted that access to clean drinking water remains a major challenge in Sudan, where families receive only 5 liters per person, which is just one-third of the recommended amount.

A damaged car and buildings are seen at the central market during clashes between the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces and the army in Khartoum North, Sudan, on April 27, 2023. (Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah/Reuters)

Sudan plunged into chaos in mid-April, when simmering tensions between the military, led by Gen. Abdel-Fattah Burhan, and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces, commanded by Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo, exploded into open warfare.

The conflict has turned the capital and other urban areas into battlefields. At least 5,000 people have been killed and more than 12,000 others wounded, according to Volker Perthes, the U.N. envoy in the country, who announced his resignation last week. The actual casualty toll, he said, is likely much higher.

More than 2.5 million people fled their homes, including more than 1 million who crossed into Sudan’s neighboring countries, according to the U.N.’s migration agency.

The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) warned that the conflict, coupled with hunger, disease, displacement, and destruction of livelihoods, threatens to consume the entire country.

OCHA said about half of the country’s population—close to 25 million people—needs humanitarian assistance by the end of this year. They include about 6.3 million who are “one step away from famine.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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