The flow of South Sudanese refugees to into Uganda shows no signs of abating. Every day, approximately 300 people cross the border to escape insecurity and lack of food in neighboring South Sudan. Since conflict erupted there in December between the army, loyal to President Salva Kiir, and forces supporting former Vice President Riek Machar, more than 66,000 South Sudanese have taken refuge in Adjumani district in northern Uganda.
Upon their arrival, they are housed in the Nyumanzi transit center, which is now overcrowded. The center’s capacity is 3,700 people, but it currently hosts approximately 10,000. Ugandan authorities are setting up a new camp where refugees will receive materials to build a hut and a small plot of land to farm, but finding land takes time.
Given the influx at the transit center, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has increased its capacity for action to provide more medical consultations, vaccinations (including against measles and polio), and screenings for children suffering from malnutrition.
Dr. Chiara Baruzzi, an MSF doctor, recalls one of the malnourished children identified, a three-month-old infant brought by his grandmother in March. The baby’s family had been attacked in South Sudan and both parents were killed. “The grandmother told me that she fled when her grandson was just six days old," says Baruzzi. "She walked, stopped along the way, and finally arrived in Uganda, three months later. All she had to feed the newborn was sugar water and goat’s milk.” The baby was hospitalized immediately and received intensive nutritional treatment.
However, despite the overcrowding, “rates of infant malnutrition are not alarming and neither is the health situation,” says Ruben Pottier, MSF’s head of mission in Uganda. This reflects conditions in both the transit center and the permanent camps in Adjumani, where MSF is working and has set up an epidemiological monitoring system. MSF teams are also conducting medical consultations and malnutrition screening at Nyumanzi (25,000 people), Ayilo (17,000 people) and Baratuky (5,000 people).
Observation beds have also been installed at the Ayilo health center, and pregnant women without complications can give birth there. A facility has been set up in Dzaipi to handle complicated deliveries and provide prenatal care. MSF built a hospitalization unit and clinic there. Patients who require hospitalization and children with severe malnutrition who require intensive nutritional treatment are transferred to this 40-bed hospital.
MSF is one of very few medical organization in these refugee camps and thus must handle a large volume of patients. Between early January, when the projects were launched, and early April, MSF held 20,092 medical consultations and conducted 251 deliveries. The primary illnesses are malaria (23 percent of cases) respiratory infections, measles, meningitis, and diarrheal diseases. However, with the start of the rainy season, cases of watery diarrhea and malaria could increase sharply.