In the last seven weeks, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) teams have been treating as many as 4,000 malaria patients every week in its health care facilities in the UN protection of civilians camp (PoC) in Bentiu, South Sudan, a staggering 43-fold increase from figures at the beginning of the year. As a result of the skyrocketing malaria caseload, compounded by limited access to basic health care and lack of early access to diagnosis and treatment of malaria, many children have been arriving to the MSF hospital inside the PoC with severe malaria infection.
Last week, an average of three children died from malaria every day in the MSF hospital after arriving in critical condition. In response, MSF has completed a door-to-door campaign providing malaria treatment to over 16,000 children between the ages of six months and five years in cooperation with UNICEF.
A Necessary Response
“The malaria outbreak in the Bentiu camp is unprecedented in scope and has been claiming the lives of far too many children,” says Vanessa Cramond, MSF medical coordinator in Bentiu. “With the escalating morbidity and mortality witnessed in the under-five population, it was evident another response strategy was needed to reach those most at risk of death.”
The joint MSF and UNICEF campaign took place from September 10 to September 17 as community health teams went shelter-to-shelter identifying all children under the age of five with symptoms of malaria. Over 210 community health care workers were employed in the campaign, assessing approximately 30,000 children for suspected malaria and providing 16,118 with treatment.
“Our goal with this emergency response has been to provide early access to malaria treatment to the most vulnerable segment of the population—children under five years old—before their condition deteriorates to the point that their lives are placed in serious jeopardy," says Cramond.
The population of the Bentiu PoC has more than doubled since May, to over 110,000 people, putting enormous strain on existing medical and humanitarian resources. In the last two months, MSF has scaled up its medical operations significantly, opening three new emergency child health clinics and three dedicated malaria health points inside the PoC and training and employing 120 community health workers to monitor the health status of the population. MSF has also added more than 60 beds to its hospital, bringing capacity to more than 170.
The MSF hospital in the Bentiu PoC is the only hospital for the population of the camp. It provides 24-hour emergency room care, intensive care for malnourished children, medical treatment in pediatric and adult wards, and surgical and maternity services. As a result of other concurrent outbreaks of infectious diseases, MSF also operates two isolation wards for patients with suspected hepatitis E and measles. MSF operations in Bentiu are supported by more than 40 international staff and 350 local staff.
MSF is one of the largest providers of neutral, independent, impartial medical humanitarian assistance in South Sudan, with more than 3,300 staff across the country. At present, MSF operates projects in seven of the country’s ten states.
Earlier this year, MSF warned that South Sudan may be on track for a second, exceptionally severe malaria season as MSF witnessed large spikes in malaria admissions in its projects across the country. In 2014, MSF treated more than 170,000 patients for malaria across the country.