Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) called for urgent improvement of humanitarian response for an improved medical and humanitarian response for people fleeing the conflict in Sudan and entering South Sudan through Renk and Upper Nile state.
The MSF head of mission in South Sudan, Jocelyn Yapi, issued this call on Wednesday after the Upper Nile Authority confirmed that 64 returnees died due to a lack of health assistance in the state.
Although the formal and informal transit centres in Renk are ideally a temporary stopover for people to move further into the country, returnees can spend weeks or even months there.
“This stay is often exhausting and painful, as people have limited access to food, shelter, water, sanitation, and healthcare. Aid is woefully inadequate in Renk compared to the needs, which are growing every day,” said Yapi.
However, Abraham Anhieny, the MSF doctor, said that at Renk Civil Hospital, where MSF supports the measles isolation ward, 90 per cent of patients are returnees and are unvaccinated. On top of that, some severely ill patients are being transferred without the provision of medical care to Malakal, a 48- to 72-hour journey by boat without medical care, water, or food.
“Deaths have been recorded on these journeys, while our teams are receiving severely sick patients at Bulukat transit centre, resulting in a higher mortality rate in the facilities in Malakal, adding that the community of returnees does not have sufficient food or drinking water, and they do not even have shelters; they use pieces of cloth to protect themselves from the sun and rain,” Anhieny said.
“As we treat malnourished children in the hospital, we see that many mothers are also malnourished. Years of conflict have already caused one of the world’s largest humanitarian crises in South Sudan,” he added.
Last week, the government of Upper Nile State confirmed a total of 64 South Sudanese fleeing war in Sudan have died while on the way to their final destinations due to a lack of healthcare from May 2023 until now.
According to the minister of information in Upper Nile State, Luka Deng, thousands of South Sudanese may have successfully escaped the deadly shelling in Sudan’s Khartoum and other cities, but tens of them succumbed due to various avoidable circumstances after arriving home.
In his interview with The City Review last week, Deng said these returnees are faced with unbearable conditions that continue to endanger their lives.
“The situation of the returnees is very bad, especially those who fled the Sudan war and are currently in Upper Nile State, and those who have come from Ethiopia since May,” he said, adding, “64 returnees have died, and most of them are children [who died] while on the way to their final destination using boats.” This figure translates into an average of 12 deaths in a month and three in a week.
“Most of those returnees are using boats to Nasir and Kodok, and there are no health facilities inside the boats, so this situation needs the intervention of the National Ministry of Health, especially in Nasir County and Kodoko County,” he urged.
The Upper State Minister of Health, Byinj Ernest Apuktong, clarified that most of the returnees who died had left South Sudan for Sudan for medication, and the children died of diseases related to measles and many others.
“The report of the 64 who died is not all in the boats; some died on the transit side, others in the boats, and others at the destination,” Byinj clarified.
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