April 05, 1998

Hundreds of Thousands at Risk of Starvation in Bahr El Ghazal ? 35% of Children Severely Malnourished

London, 6th April, 1998 — The international medical relief organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is launching an emergency appeal to fund nutrition and health programmes in Bahr El Ghazal, southern Sudan. The appeal is to pay for medical and nutritional supplies, including medicines, milk, sugar, oil, high-protein biscuits and feeding equipment. About 350,000 people are currently at risk in the region, including 120,000 people displaced by the recent fighting and now unable to harvest their crops.

Over 1,100 children are being treated for malnutrition in seven MSF feeding centres in Bahr El Ghazal, and at least three more therapeutic (intensive) feeding centres will be opened in the next couple of weeks. Teams in the field are receiving five-month-old children who are only 50cm long and weigh around 2kg, which is less than the average birth weight and measurement of a baby born in Europe.

Over the past two months, around 7,000 children have been treated at the MSF health centres. Systematic screening for malnutrition revealed that 35% of children under five were severely malnourished or under 70% of the weight they should be for their height. Because the cost of flying supplies into these inaccessible areas is relatively high, it costs an average of £15 a week to treat each child for malnutrition; most stay an average of one month before they are healthy enough to leave the feeding centres.

MSF's head of mission for Bahr El Ghazal, Marc Hermant said,"because these people are weakened by hunger, they are even more at risk of dying from easily preventable diseases such as diarrhoea and malaria; this is why we need to bring as many supplies as possible while it is still possible to fly in".

People are suffering from the effects of last year's poor harvest, irregular rain-fall and years of war. When fresh fighting erupted in late January, the Khartoum government allowed no relief flights into Bahr El Ghazal for several weeks. Flights have now resumed, but there are no guarantees as to how much longer the government will grant flight clearances.

Note to editors: Traditionally, the two months before the late summer harvest are the "hunger gap", when people are most dependent on aid. This year, it began as early as March because of the drought and fighting. MSF has the largest medical presence throughout Bahr El Ghazal. It is already running twelve primary health centres and aims to vaccinate all the children under five against a potentially deadly measles epidemic. 4,000 have already been vaccinated in the past two months.

MSF is the world's largest independent emergency medical relief organization, providing aid to victims of armed conflict, natural and man-made disasters, and epidemic diseases, and to populations who lack of access to health care. Nearly 2,500 volunteers from 45 countries currently work with MSF, providing medical aid in more than 80 countries.