Sudan: MSF Opens a Kala Azar Treatment Center in Eastern Atbara Region

Valérie Batselaere/MSF
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In the two months since MSF opened a kala azar treatment center in eastern Sudan, some 400 patients have been treated

In the two months since Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) opened a kala azar (visceral leishmaniasis) treatment center in eastern Sudan, some 400 patients have been treated by personnel from MSF and the Ministry of Health. “Had these people not received treatment they would have died,” says Dr. Dagemlidet Worku, MSF’s field coordinator for the project. “Working in this hospital, we will be able to save hundreds of lives each year.”

The project is situated in the remote village of Tabarak Allah, in Al-Gedaref State, approximately 550 km (330 miles) southeast of the capital, Khartoum. Kala azar, a parasitic disease caused by a bite from a sand fly, is deadly if not treated, and this part of Sudan, the Atbara region, is one of the most kala azar-endemic regions in the world. The area’s 460,000 inhabitants live under vulnerable conditions, most of them depending on farming to survive.

“Before MSF’s arrival, we didn’t have enough drugs,” said Dr. Abubakar, a Ministry of Health doctor working in Tabarak Allah Hospital. “Only those who could afford it would travel and stay one month in remote towns to get a treatment. The others asked me for painkillers they could take until the hospital received more kala azar drugs.”

The treatment consists of a daily injection for a period of 30 days. The cost of the first-line drug is about $50 per treatment. It is now provided for free in the public hospital where MSF is working.

Nine-year-old Ammar Omar Abdu Dana had just passed his school exams two days before coming to the treatment center in Tabarak Allah, where he was diagnosed with kala azar. He will begin treatment immediately, much to the relief of the boy’s father. “After two hours of walking,” he said, “Ammar was so tired that he could no longer continue on his feet, so I rented a donkey and put him on it until we reached Tabarak Allah Hospital." Word of the program has spread, he added: "MSF’s kala azar Treatment Center is very popular.”

In addition to providing kala azar treatment, MSF also works in collaboration with the Sudanese Ministry of Health and with national and international institutions to conduct research to improve the treatment and diagnosis of kala azar. MSF will help train Sudanese health professionals to work with the disease and is already providing the drugs and medical supplies needed to treat it. MSF will be building and equipping a laboratory, delivery room, and inpatient department for kala azar patients in order to improve medical activities in the hospital.