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The unifying factor among refugees and Sudanese communities: intense need

Sudan’s Um Rakuba camp, which was originally built for Ethiopian refugees, now shelters internally displaced Sudanese people fleeing violence during the current war.

MSF mobile clinic in Um Rakuba, Sudan

An MSF mobile clinic in Um Rakuba camp. | Sudan 2021 © Ehab Zawati/MSF

In the busy Um Rakuba refugee camp in El Gedaref state, along eastern Sudan’s border with Ethiopia, people in urgent need of medical care wait patiently for their turn at the hospital in the camp.

Um Rakuba camp was established in November 2020, following an influx of thousands of Ethiopian refugees. By the end of February 2024, the camp hosted more than 17,300 refugees, according to UNHCR. Teams from Doctors Without Borders/Médecins San Frontières (MSF) have been a constant presence since the camp’s establishment, supporting the its hospital and responding to the needs of internally displaced Sudanese and the host community in addition to refugees. 

Since the onset of the war in Sudan in April 2023, and due to the reduction of humanitarian actors, MSF has remained the main provider of comprehensive primary, secondary, and emergency health care in Um Rakuba camp. 

A local lifeline for refugees and host communities

“After three days on the road, we settled in a school that had been set up as a shelter for displaced people like us," said Aida, a 29-year-old Sudanese mother who fled from Wad Madani with her husband and six children when the war broke out. "My youngest was malnourished because we couldn't find enough food. Luckily, people from a local mosque donated some money to help us get to the Um Rakuba camp hospital. The MSF team was there, and they saved my son.”

Refugees from Khartoum to Um Rakuba camp in East Sudan
Ethiopian refugees Salim* and Qamar* (names changed for privacy) fled with their four children to East Sudan, where MSF provides medical and emergency support.
Sudan 2023 © MSF

"I fled to Sudan with my family and was resettled in Um Rakuba,” said Tarik, a 27-year-old Ethiopian refugee. “Since arriving in the camp, my family and I have been continuously treated by MSF. I recently gave birth to my son in the hospital's maternity ward. I am grateful for the health care provided to me and my baby.”

Aida and Tarik represent the voices of countless women on the journey of displacement. They are mothers in need of a helping hand to meet their children’s and their own medical needs.

Shortages of essential supplies and medicines

"We provide health education on hygiene, nutrition, and breastfeeding,” said Halimah Jumah, an MSF midwife in the camp. “We also provide advice on family planning and baby care. However, we face challenges such as shortages of drugs and supplies, which make our work difficult. Despite these challenges, we remain committed to our mission.”

MSF teams provide women with basic health care, including sexual and reproductive health and mental health services, as well as medical referrals. Last year, our medical team provided consultations for 5,534 patients, family planning services for 2,441 patients, and assisted 507 deliveries. 

Neglected medical needs during wartime 

When people think of medical needs in wartime, they often picture injuries caused by bombs or bullets. However, there is also a growing number of medical needs resulting from complications of chronic diseases or outbreaks. We see this firsthand in our facilities, where part of our response is to tackle neglected diseases such as kala azar, in addition to malnutrition and malaria.

"For more than a decade, MSF has been at the forefront of treating, diagnosing, and researching kala azar, particularly in eastern Sudan,” said Dr. Frank Katambula, MSF's medical coordinator in Sudan. “From 2010 to 2020, MSF ran a specialized kala azar hospital in the region. During this period, we treated nearly 7,000 patients and achieved an impressive cure rate of almost 100 percent."

"We continue to address this neglected disease in our medical response at Um Rakuba camp hospital by treating patients with Ambisome—the most effective and expensive treatment for kala azar, which is mostly reserved for the most advanced cases and the most vulnerable patients,” he added. 

As Sudan approaches the lean season, our teams in Um Rakuba have observed a month-by-month increase in the number of malnourished patients admitted to the inpatient therapeutic feeding center in the camp hospital. Notably, from March to April, there was a 3.1 percent increase in  severe acute malnutrition admissions.

"From January to April 2024, at the Um Rakuba hospital’s outpatient department, we screened 4,389 children under five years old, recording 307 children with severe acute malnutrition and 320 with moderate acute malnutrition,” explained Dr. Katambula. “All these children were directly admitted into the therapeutic feeding program by referral to other humanitarian partners in the camp or host community." .

A MSF nurse helps a patient at the Um Rakuba hospital in Sudan
A mother and child receive treatment at the MSF hospital in Um Rakuba camp.
Sudan 2024 © Mohamed Omer/MSF

Aid must be scaled up to help millions in jeopardy

Our team at Um Rakuba camp has worked without significant interruptions, setting up various departments to address a broad spectrum of medical needs. These include consultation rooms, inpatient care, adult and pediatric care, a maternity ward for pregnant women and newborn babies, a tuberculosis (TB) clinic, and an isolation unit. We also manage chronic diseases such as diabetes and hypertension. 

Last year alone, our team provided over 40,000 consultations, a figure that represents not just numbers but people—each with their own unique needs and stories. 

"As much as we are able to help refugees, internally displaced people,  and host communities at Um Rakuba hospital, the scarcity of health care in other areas of Sudan is profound," said Mohammed Mohi, an MSF medical staff member.

As much as we are able to help refugees, internally displaced people, and host communities at Um Rakuba hospital, the scarcity of health care in other areas of Sudan is profound.

Mohammed Mohi, an MSF medical staff member.

To sustain our medical aid at this hospital, our team has been exploring every possible avenue. Still, our main concern is the reduction of the humanitarian actors in Sudan and the shortage of funding for the country’s ongoing humanitarian crisis. 

We repeat our call for humanitarian actors to scale-up aid in Sudan to help the millions of lives in jeopardy.

Sudan crisis response