Health aspects of the humanitarian crisis in the Greater Darfur Region of Sudan


7 June 2004

Internal conflict has resulted in a massive humanitarian crisis in the Greater Darfur Region, Sudan, with more than one million internally displaced persons (IDPs) requiring assistance in more than 124 different locations. Host communities are suffering too. The United Nations estimates that as many as two million people are affected.

Because of a poor road network as well as insecurity along routes, not all IDP communities are accessible. Access has improved in recent weeks, but assessments of conditions in different IDP camps are grim, all indicating severe lack of food, water, health care and shelter. As IDP camps grow, so does the pressure on the health system, which is poor even at the primary level. Secondary and tertiary health care is practically non-existent outside of the state capitals.

Woman and small children

The lack of primary health care particularly affects the most vulnerable groups: children under five and those separated from their families, pregnant and breastfeeding women, and the elderly. These groups make up the majority of IDPs.

With few hospitals working, many people lack access to health care and cannot get treatment for diseases such as malaria, measles, pneumonia and cholera. Lack of reproductive health care is also a huge concern, adding to maternal and child mortality. Urgent measures to address the physical and psychological needs of women, many of whom have reportedly been raped, are vital.


Carrying potable water

A major health concern is the lack of sanitation and safe, potable water at IDP camps. Assessments carried out by experts from WHO's Regional Centre for Environmental Health Activities in Amman show that most water sources are under-chlorinated, household containers are contaminated, latrines are inadequate and environmental conditions are anything but satisfactory. It is estimated that only 12% of the potable water needed is currently available. Such poor conditions have led to a rise in mortality, with instances of daily under-five mortality rates of 6.8 per 10 000. The main causes of death are acute respiratory infections, diarrhoea, and malnutrition.

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