CAIRO – More than 1,200 children under age 5 have died in nine camps in war-scarred Sudan in the past five months, because of a deadly combination of measles and malnutrition, the U.N.’s refugee agency said Tuesday.
The UNHCR said the deaths, between May 15 and Sept. 14, were documented by its teams in the White Nile province, where thousands of Sudanese have sheltered as fighting has raged for six months between rival generals, in the capital of Khartoum and elsewhere. There were thousands of suspected cases of cholera in other parts of the country, UNHCR public health chief Allen Maina said.
“Dozens of children are dying every day — a result of this devastating conflict and a lack of global attention,” U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said.
Sudan plunged into chaos in mid-April, when simmering tensions between the military, led by Gen. Abdel-Fattah Burhan, and the powerful paramilitary Rapid Support Forces, commanded by Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo, exploded into open warfare.
The conflict has turned the capital and other urban areas into battlefields. At least 5,000 people have been killed and more than 12,000 others wounded, according to Volker Perthes, the U.N. envoy in the country, who announced his resignation last week. The actual casualty toll, he said, is likely much higher.
More than 2.5 million people fled their homes, including more than 1 million who crossed into Sudan’s neighboring countries, according to the U.N.’s migration agency.
The fighting wrecked the country’s health care system, with many hospitals and medical facilities out of service. The World Health Organization said that it documented 56 attacks on health care facilities that left 11 deaths and 38 injuries since the war broke out in mid-April.
Local health care workers “desperately need the support of the international community to prevent further deaths and the spread of outbreaks,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.
The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, or OCHA, warned Monday that the conflict, coupled with hunger, disease, displacement and destruction of livelihoods, threatens to consume the entire country.
OCHA said about half of the country’s population — around 25 million people — needs humanitarian assistance by the end of this year. They include about 6.3 million who are “one step away from famine,” the agency said.
The U.N. refugee agency said that many displaced Sudanese are suffering from measles and malnutrition. Many refugees arriving in South Sudan and Ethiopia also have contracted measles and are malnourished. Acute malnutrition among children was reported in Chad, which hosts the largest number of Sudanese refugees since the conflict began.
The U.N. children's agency has also warned that “many thousands of newborns” may die in Sudan by the end of the year because of a lack of access to treatment.
“Those newborns and their mothers needed adequate care at a time when such care was becoming less likely by the day,” said UNICEF spokesperson James Elder, who just returned from Sudan.