South Sudan records 1.6 million severe malaria cases, as it battles a health crisis

According to Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF/Doctors Without Borders), the 1.6 million malaria cases currently recorded in South Sudan pushes the country towards the most severe outbreak of the disease that it has ever witnessed. Al Jazeera reports that the city of Aweil in the state of Northern Bahr el Ghazar, the poorest state in the country, is taking the worst hit of the malaria season, which, ordinarily, should have ended in December.

The United Nations Office for the Coordination for Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reports that malaria cases in different areas of South Sudan have doubled and quadrupled, depending on the number of patients trooping into their respective health centres. The Project Manager for MSF in Aweil, Claire Nicolet, disclosed to reporters that about 130 patients with severe cases of malaria were still being treated as of December of 2015, thus extending the period into this year. Malaria season in South Sudan occurs between May and December and this is the second consecutive one that the conflict-prone country is experiencing, after the last one in 2014 saw over 170,000 malaria patients needing treatment. United Nations (UN) statistics showed that 72 percent of disease-related deaths in South Sudan in 2014 were caused by malaria.

Following the developments of 2014, MSF adviced the country to medically prepare for another, possibly severe, malaria season which, sadly, is presently the case. Last year, Aweil recorded up to 520 admissions in July alone, while other areas such as Bentiu saw up to 2,600 patients in just three weeks. Based on this, the organisation projected that if the situation was not contained by allowing access to basic primary healthcare, there would be an increase in the numbers of preventable deaths.

MSF runs the only public hospital in Aweil with the partnership of the Ministry of Health which caters to about 1.2 million people. Other healthcare centres are located outside of Aweil with about an hour’s distance, or more, between them. Poorly equipped facilities with limited access for most patients, coupled with the shortage of costly drugs account for the increased spread of the epidemic in South Sudan and recorded cases of preventable deaths.

However, malaria was not the only life-threatening problem in South Sudan’s economy in 2015, as other health-related issues, such as a cholera outbreak in July and food insecurity were an unfortunate fixture. At least 18 lives were lost to a cholera outbreak in Juba, South Sudan’s capital and 171 other patients were confirmed by the Ministry of Health.

It was reported, in December, that about 80 percent of the country’s population is facing a critical food shortage, brought on by the two-year long civil war, which could lead to starvation and death. The same month, the European Union increased its humanitarian aid to South Sudan by 20 million pounds to contain the situation, as well as support the health system which is battling with outbreaks of malaria, cholera and measles.

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