Friday, July 16, 2004

Health catastrophe looms in Sudan: UN

A malnourished Sudanese refugee child lies at a feeding centre in Iriba Town in Chad.

The World Health Organisation has warned a major health catastrophe could erupt in western Sudan's Darfur region if the needed funds, personnel and supplies were not made available.

Hundreds of thousands of internal refugees are threatened by cholera, dysentery and malaria, two senior WHO officials told a press conference.

"People are dying now because they are living in totally unsatisfactory conditions, but too many more could die in the coming weeks unless we prevent the lack of sanitation, malnutrition, shortage of clean water and the coming rains from combining into a recipe for death," WHO Director General Lee Jong Wook said in a statement.

"We must work urgently to prevent a health catastrophe."

Dr Lee and the regional director for the eastern Mediterranean, Dr Hussein Gezairy, were speaking following a tour of Darfur.

The two noted that some progress was made last month, thanks to joint efforts by the Sudanese ministry of health, UNICEF and other organisations.

But they remarked that the gap between the needs and the available relief is "all too evident".

"There are two dimensions to the crisis in Sudan - a political and a humanitarian one. Hundreds of thousands of peoples' lives are hanging in the balance and they need help now," Dr Lee said.

"We strongly appeal for more external assistance to fill the gap between the needs and the available relief."

The statement said the two assessed the health situation at Kalma camp outside Nyala in South Darfur which hosts more than 50,000 people and receives 300 newcomers every day.

They concluded that as the rainy season peaks in the coming weeks, water and mud would wash over the camp, making it "ripe for a cholera outbreak".

Dr Gezairy told journalists his organisation and partners could work to prevent that by prepositioning supplies and vaccinating susceptible people. "This costs money but is far outweighed by an outbreak of the deadly disease," he said.

Health Minister Ahmed Bilal Osman declared at the joint press conference his ministry's commitment to making available to each one of the three states of Darfur 100 million Sudanese pounds (about $US40,000) per month in support of the health services there.

NGOs have so far offered about $US10 million to back the health and medical services to the needy people in Darfur, Mr Osman said.

By In Solidarity 16 July 04


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