Um Sangour primary health care facility in Kosti, White Nile state, Sudan, is the only health facility that used to support the whole camp population. This health facility now receives 700 patients daily after the population of the camp has doubled due to the conflict in Khartoum. © UNHCR/Ala Kheir


The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the World Health Organization (WHO) have issued a dire warning regarding the deteriorating health conditions in Sudan, where more than 1,200 refugee children under the age of five have died between May 15 and September 14. These tragic deaths are attributed to a suspected measles outbreak compounded by high levels of malnutrition in nine refugee camps in Sudan's White Nile state.

In addition to the child fatalities, over 3,100 suspected cases of measles have been reported during this period, and more than 500 suspected cases of cholera have emerged in other parts of the country. Dengue and malaria outbreaks are also occurring, posing significant challenges for epidemic control and increasing the risk of widespread health crises.

Filippo Grandi, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, expressed deep concern, stating, "The world has the means and the money to prevent every one of these deaths from measles or malnutrition, yet dozens of children are dying every day due to this devastating conflict and a lack of global attention. We can prevent more deaths, but we need funding, access to those in need, and above all, an end to the fighting."

Healthcare facilities are under immense pressure, grappling with shortages of medical staff, life-saving medications, and critical equipment. Repeated attacks on healthcare facilities since the conflict's onset, including assaults on medical personnel, patients, and the transportation of medical supplies, further exacerbate the challenges of delivering essential healthcare services.

Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, emphasized the urgent need for international support to prevent further fatalities and the spread of outbreaks: "Local health workers, with the help of WHO and partners, are doing all they can in very difficult conditions. But they desperately need the support of the international community to prevent further deaths and the spread of outbreaks. We call on donors to be generous and on the warring parties to protect health workers and access to health for all those who need it."

The crisis extends beyond Sudan's borders, with increasing cases of children arriving with measles and high rates of malnutrition in South Sudan. The malnutrition situation is rapidly deteriorating, affecting over 5,770 suspected cases of measles, with 142 deaths reported. Young children under the age of five bear the brunt of the impact, accounting for nearly 70 percent of cases and 76 percent of all deaths. Many of these affected children were not vaccinated against measles, underscoring gaps in immunization efforts.

The situation is equally alarming in Ethiopia's Amhara region, where a cholera outbreak in Metema is escalating in sites hosting over 18,000 people who have fled the Sudanese conflict. Eight deaths have been reported among 435 suspected cholera cases as of September 12. The shortage of cholera vaccine stocks for routine immunization poses a significant risk to refugees. Lack of ambulances, medical equipment, and critical health staff further hinder the humanitarian response.

Chad also faces a severe health crisis, with nearly 13,000 children under five identified as acutely malnourished. Malnutrition cases have risen by 56 percent across the province of Ouaddai, which hosts more than 80 percent of refugees, since the conflict began in Sudan. Access to clean drinking water remains a major challenge, with families receiving only one-third of the recommended amount per person.

UNHCR, WHO, and their partners are actively working to provide urgent assistance both inside Sudan and across borders. Efforts include food distribution, measles vaccinations for children under five, and oral cholera vaccination campaigns. Stabilization centers are being supported to treat severe malnutrition, and essential health supplies are being provided to affected regions. Reproductive health care, mental health support, and psychosocial assistance are also prioritized in the response to this devastating health crisis.


WorldCon 75, Scott Lynch; photo by Jana Blomqvist


WorldCon 75, Robin Hobb; photo by Jana Blomqvist


Based on an interview by Alisa Nirman on 3.10.2016