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05-07-2012 | Africa

Malnutrition rising as fighting continues in worlds newest nation


On 9th July 2012, South Sudan celebrates its first year of independence. However, becoming the world's newest country has not brought an end to the years of armed conflict. An ill-defined border as well as internal ethnic tension can quickly trigger fighting. The wounded and sick struggle to get treatment as access to basic health care is very difficult.

The latest fighting around the northern border with Sudan escalated in April. It has had a direct impact on the health of this fledgling nation. Dr Georgio Monti is a consultant paediatrician who has worked at Malakal Teaching hospital since January. He has seen the affect of fighting on young South Sudanese after the border closed preventing food reaching the market, and causing price hikes. "We immediately saw an increase in malnourished babies in the centre," he says.

The ICRC has been working in Malakal hospital for one year and has seen the situation deteriorate. Hospital admissions are up 30 to 40 % compared to 12 months ago, and with an even greater increase over the past three months. The medical team also reported that patients are arriving in a much worse condition.
Malakal has the highest number of Kala Azar cases in the world, a disease which can cause death within six months. Spread by fly bites, it affects malnourished babies, and is very hard to detect in the first 4 weeks of infection. Malnourished children are particularly vulnerable to the main childhood killers: pneumonia, malaria and diarrhoea.

BakhitaKhamis is 28 years old and her daughter, Achol, is five. Achol has been ill for a month with typhoid and malaria. Two more of Bakhita's children have died through illness.

"The day before we planned to bring my daughter to the hospital she died. My other child was alive for four days after I gave birth, and then she started to cry. She died on the way here."

For a population of nearly 9 million people, there are only 120 medical doctors and just over 100 registered nurses. Vulnerable groups like women, children and the wounded are particularly at risk: South Sudan records the highest maternal mortality in the world.

Dr Monti explains how difficult it is to do his job: "We have no power 24 hours a day, we have no radiology. We have enough drugs, but even the supply of drugs is not easy. And the big problem is the lack of education, lack of education in doctors, as we don't have a university. We don't have a medical school here and we don't have a school for nurses."

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