The work of Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in Yida camp is proving effective. As explained by André Heller, MSF head of mission in South Sudan, MSF has managed to reduce the mortality rate in this camp of families seeking refuge from conflict and food insecurity in Sudan. But living conditions remain a concern, as does the high prevalence of disease in the camp. The main causes of mortality have not changed since early July, when the situation reached a critical threshold. So the efforts must continue.
- Are things in Yida camp as bad as they were in July, when the mortality rates were so high?
- No, we've made significant progress. Between mid-June and mid-July, the mortality rates were twice the emergency threshold levels. One month later, the mortality rate in the hospital was down from 25% to 2%. But most deaths are still among children under five. They're the most vulnerable ones. Generally speaking, MSF's work has had real impact on the refugees' health. We've brought the mortality rate right down. First of all, we see far more children than one month ago. We're seeing some 3,000 patients per week, who are hospitalized or treated as outpatients. We've multiplied our consultation sites so the children come earlier, before they fall seriously ill. And we give the malnourished ones adapted therapeutic foods.
- Can we say that the situation is under control in Yida?
- Not completely. First of all because nearly half the children diagnosed with malnutrition need hospitalization. We've had to hospitalize 81 children in the week of August 27 alone. Furthermore, the main causes of mortality haven’t changed. If we look at the number of inpatient and outpatient cases treated by MSF, we see that the main causes of mortality haven't changed, except for the number of malaria cases which have risen sharply. We're right in the middle of the rainy season, when malaria peaks. So we must keep up the fight against malaria. Otherwise diarrhea, water-borne infections and pulmonary infections remain the main causes of mortality. Of course we're increasing our efforts. And other partners are working on access to water and improved hygiene conditions. But there's still room for improvement in this regard.
- How did MSF expand its assistance to the refugee population in Yida?
- MSF has increased the means deployed, mainly by increasing the number of hospital beds from 40 to 100 and expanding staff numbers. We've quadrupled our expatriate team: doctors, nurses, and water and sanitation experts too, because we're intervening in hygiene and sanitation facilities in the camp.
Concretely, the MSF team has scaled up the capacity for pumping and storing borehole water so that we're now able to provide 80,000 liters of clean and chlorinated water. We also distribute jerrycans, as we saw that the refugees' jerrycans were dirty and contaminated, potentially transmitting infections. And we build public latrines. There were nowhere near enough and the camp's population keeps expanding. People pour in every day, fleeing Sudan's conflict and food insecurity. Up to 1,000 new arrivals settle in the camp every week. We don't have precise figures for Yida's population, but it's estimated at between 50,000 and 65,000 people.
- What other difficulties do you face?
- Since the rainy season started in June, it has been very complicated bringing in material, medicines, food and so on. Supplies have to be flown in. MSF has a small plane that can transport 750kg of freight, but we have to use the United Nations' helicopters too, as everything has to be brought in to Yida. The rainy season will last another two months. It means we'll have mud underfoot for a while yet. We'll need to monitor the refugee's health and continue efforts to improve their living conditions. We've achieved a first step: the mortality rate has been reduced. Now we have to maintain the momentum over the next few months because the refugees’ situation in Yida is still precarious.