July 15, 2014 (JUBA) – Medical charity Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has described the rates of malnutrition among South Sudanese children in conflict-affected areas as “shocking”.
- A South Sudanese boy has a MUAC test, designed to detect malnutrition (Photo: ACF-South Sudan/T. Frank)
Raphael Gorgeu, the MSF chief in South Sudan, said on Monday the seven-month-long conflict and its humanitarian consequences was a “man-made disaster”, adding that an average of 1,000 children are now treated in Unity state’s Leer per month, compared to 40 malnutrition cases before the outbreak of violence in mid-December last year.
“We are now witnessing the shocking, cumulative consequences of one million people being displaced from their homes,” said Gorgeu in a press statement extended to Sudan Tribune.
“Some people have been living in the bush for six months, drinking dirty swamp water and eating roots to survive,” he added.
The aid agency has been overwhelmed by the sharp increase in malnutrition cases, particularly among children.
It says in the first six months of 2014, 13,270 children under the age five were admitted to feeding programs, representing 73 per cent. That’s compared to 18,125 children admitted under special feeding programs in the whole of 2013.
“Violence, displacement and food shortage are the leading causes of the spike in malnutrition rates and increasing numbers of children requiring urgent medical care in some locations where MSF is working,” the press statement noted.
The United Nations warned this week that as many as 50,000 children could die from malnutrition by the end of the year unless urgent steps are taken.
The rates of malnutrition are particularly high among children in Upper Nile, Unity and Jonglei states.
“It is overwhelming. The levels of malnutrition [are] startling,” said Sarah Maynard, the MSF coordinator in Leer.
In Bentiu, a specialised MSF health facility established in May to treat severely malnourished people suffering from medical complications, including diarrhoea, chest infections and dehydration, admitted 239 children, of which 42 died.
In Jonglei state, health facilities in Lankien and Yuai saw a 60 per cent increase in the first six months of 2014 compared the same period in 2013, rising from an average of 175 cases per month to 290 admissions.
In Upper Nile state, MSF said 2,064 people were admitted with health complications, most of whom were children, with “a very high death rate” documented.
“Displaced people are forced to endure terrible living conditions and are dying from preventable illnesses,” Patricia Trigales, an emergency medical coordinator in Upper Nile state, quoted by MSF said.
Fighting between government troops and rebel forces loyal to former vice-president Riek Machar has left at least 10,000 people dead and over a million displaced, according to UN reports. Hundreds of thousands have fled to neighbouring countries.
The fighting has caused the widespread destruction of infrastructure and severely disrupted crop planting across the country, exacerbating food shortages.
Both parties have failed to respect a cessation of hostilities agreement signed in January, with aid agencies warning of a humanitarian catastrophe, saying nearly 4 million South Sudanese are at risk of famine this year.