Health Needs in Sudan Conflict Zones

The World Health Organization's representative to Sudan, Mohammad Abdur Rab, told reporters yesterday that 10 percent of children in Darfur and in South Sudan die before their first birthday, and that 15 percent of children in western Darfur were malnourished. This immense figure provides a quantitative background to PHR’s work on food security issues, as well as sanitation and health needs of displaced Darfuris living in UNHCR camps for the past five years.In meetings held with members of Congress in Washington, DC last week, PHR doctors briefed co-Chairs from the House Commission on Human Rights, Congressional Women’s Caucus and Congressional Caucus on Sudan on the urgent health, food and security needs in Camp Farchana. The camp was the site of PHR’s 2008 investigation into the impact of sexual violence on survivors of the Darfur conflict (see the report here), which found high levels of malnourishment, lack of healthcare, insufficient sanitation and lack of protection for women and girls in the face of daily risk of attack.The food security issues and the health needs are closely linked—and an integrated strategy between UN agencies and aid organizations on the ground is desperately needed—on both sides of the Sudan/Chad border. Although the World Food Program (WFP) target caloric intake of 2,100 kilocalories is formally being provided to the refugees by WFP rations, the type and quantities of food apparently are seriously inadequate.WFP rations consist of only five items (sorghum, oil, salt, sugar, corn-soy blend) and the sorghum rations are distributed in an un-ground form, which means that the refugees themselves have to pay the cost of grinding the grain.The lack of milk, meat or vegetables has consequences for the health needs of refugees, particularly vulnerable groups like children and pregnant women. Even where fortunate refugees receive the target caloric intake, they don’t receive sufficient nutrients because of the limited diet.We must commit to reducing child malnutrition by providing milk and meat to pregnant women and children. PHR has been working to encouraging UN agencies to coordinate sufficiently so that refugees themselves can be involved in the solution to this issue.Currently, women are forced to sell their meager sorghum rations for milk or meat, travelling to a local market where they receive a vastly reduced price for their sorghum due to market saturation. However, if UN peacekeepers would provide protection for women and girls outside the camps, they could collect the necessary hay and water and raise livestock around the camp. This would give them a supply of milk and meat to add to their diet, and also provide them with the opportunity to provide for their family’s livelihood.In his briefing yesterday, Abdur Rab also mentioned that international donors need to increase their support for fragile health services in Sudan, with special attention to secondary and tertiary care centres. Next week PHR will be doing more work on the issue of Sexual and Gender-based Violence (SGV) programming, and the need to provide?emergency assistance for injuries, documentation of injuries, access to HIV/AIDS prophylactic treatment, pregnancy testing, psychological and social support—none of which are currently being provided to women and girls in Darfur.

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