South Sudan: Dramatic influx of displaced people threatens medical crisis at PoC camp

Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) medical teams are witnessing dramatic increases in patients seeking treatment for common diseases caused by lack of shelter and sanitation in the United Nations Protection of Civilians (PoC) camp in Malakal, South Sudan, following an influx of more than 19,000 displaced persons in July. The total population seeking protection in the camp now exceeds 48,000 residents, stretching existing humanitarian resources to the limit.

“Many people arriving in the Malakal camp have been displaced for weeks or months already with extremely limited access to food and medical care,” says Victor Escobar, MSF project Coordinator in Malakal. “These already-vulnerable people urgently need a sanitary space to live and access to medical care. Otherwise, their health will continue to suffer.”

Already, there are signs of a severely worsening health situation as the number of patients seen by MSF in its projects inside the Malakal PoC have doubled or tripled for some diseases since June. This can only partially be explained by the increase of the population, since our medical teams are observing a significant increase in the incidence of several common diseases. The number of patients arriving weekly with diarrhoea has more than doubled since June, while the number of patients treated for respiratory tract infections has increased by 80 per cent from June to July. Similarly, MSF observed that the number of malaria cases par week has almost tripled if compared to June.

“These are extremely concerning trends. The vast majority of our patients are new arrivals, mostly women and children, who have endured a difficult and dangerous journey to reach the camp,” says Escobar. “They arrive in family groups of five to ten, with only what they can carry in their hands. Now, with the rapid influx of people into the camp, many have no choice but to sleep in streets, pathways and puddles.”

MSF has begun distributing plastic sheeting and mosquito nets as a temporary, emergency measure but access to appropriate additional living space must be improved to prevent further deterioration of the health situation. The medical risks confronted by new arrivals living in unsanitary conditions are exacerbated by the rainy season, which significantly increases the risk of disease outbreaks.

Since the latest upsurge of the conflict in Upper Nile State this year, tens of thousands of people have become highly dependent on humanitarian assistance for their survival.  Many of the people in the Malakal PoC are arriving from Wau Shilluk, where tens of thousands of people are living with severely limited access to food or medical assistance.

MSF runs an emergency room, in-patient field hospital and medical triage centre inside the Malakal PoC. MSF’s medical bed capacity was expanded from 40 to 60 beds last month but its facilities have nonetheless been operating at full capacity almost continuously since early July. The number of MSF medical consultations in the PoC increased from about 250 per week in June to over 400 per week at present.