Southern Sudan: Health needs already start to dwarf the new peace accord

There is an enormous disease burden afflicting this population, most of it preventable or easily cured, some of it requiring secondary health programs, yet all of it dwarfs the services in place.

War, violence, disease and misery have devastated the people of southern Sudan for decades. Ground and aerial attacks on towns and villages killed people outright, while others perished from exposure, thirst, malnutrition, epidemics and a host of preventable diseases.

It is estimated that over two million people in southern Sudan died. Now a long-negotiated peace agreement has raised hopes that the suffering will finally draw to a close.

The end of the fighting has indeed brought a degree of stability to many parts of southern Sudan, giving the people an opportunity to return to their homes after decades in exile, to rebuild their livelihoods and to benefit from the peace and health that have eluded most Southerners for their entire lives.

But despite vast oil reserves under ground, enormous regions lack electricity, bridges or even a few kilometers of road - this is one of the least developed places on earth.

Little has changed when you look at the health of the populations of the Upper Nile, a region particularly affected by the conflict. People tell Medécins Sans Frontières (MSF) that things are better, enjoying the improved security situation even as they continue to die from lack of food, clean water and diseases such as diarrhoea, malaria, tuberculosis and kala-azar.

In short, there is an enormous disease burden afflicting this population, most of it preventable or easily cured, some of it requiring secondary health programs, yet all of it dwarfs the services in place. And even as the region grows - markets swell with new products and people return from the north or abroad - peace has been marked by a startling lack of movement in terms of meeting these health needs.

MSF's clinics in Upper Nile are running at full capacity to provide basic health care to the population, but still can just reach a small portion of the population.

To date, only a few other humanitarian agencies are planning to scale up their health activities. Much more is needed, if only to provide the most basic assistance. It is of the utmost importance to use the window of opportunity brought by the peace agreement put an end to the suffering of the people in Upper Nile.