Sudan conflict fallout: Over 1,200 children have died in country amid healthcare crisis, says UN

Children died from suspected measles and malnutrition; those under five account for over three-quarters of all deaths

By Madhumita Paul
Published: Wednesday 20 September 2023
Photo: UNHCR / Ala Kheir

More than 1,200 children under the age of five died in Sudan from suspected measles and malnutrition in nine camps in White Nile State between May 15 and September 14, 2023, according to United Nations agencies on September 19, 2023.

The children were refugees living in nine camps in Sudan’s White Nile state, according to the UN refugee agency (UNCHR) and the World Health Organization (WHO).

Over 3,100 suspected cases were also reported in the same period. Cholera has also gripped the region and more than 500 suspected cases of cholera have been reported in other parts of the country. 

There have also been dengue and malaria outbreaks in an environment of increased epidemic risk and epidemic control challenges.

In Sudan's southern neighbour South Sudan, over 5,770 suspected cases of measles have been reported, with 142 deaths. Children under five are worst impacted, accounting for nearly 70 per cent of all cases and 76 per cent of all deaths. 

Half of the affected children were unvaccinated against measles, highlighting gaps in immunisation, especially among returnees and refugees. 

On average, 103 children per month were admitted to health facilities for moderate or severe malnutrition between May and July, up from 14 total admissions before the conflict.

Fighting between the Sudanese Armed Forces and the Rapid Support Forces since April 15, 2023 has displaced over 2.9 million people across Sudan and into neighbouring countries like Central African Republic, Chad, Egypt, Ethiopia, Libya and South Sudan. These numbers include around 1.5 million children.

The UN refugee agency and WHO sounded the alarm over the worsening health situation in Sudan.

Filippo Grandi, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said: 

The world has the means and the money to prevent every one of these deaths from measles or malnutrition. And yet dozens of children are dying every day — a result of this devastating conflict and a lack of global attention. We can prevent more deaths, but need money for the response, access to those in need and above all, an end to the fighting.

Tthe healthcare sector in Sudan is suffering greatly as a result of the conflict, with a lack of medical personnel (there are only four doctors per 10,000 citizens), essential medicines and equipment, the global health agency said. 

Repeated attacks on health since the beginning of the conflict, including on personnel, patients, and medical supply transportation, have also hampered the delivery of health services, according to the agencies. 

Years of underfunding have also had a significant negative impact on the public health system. Nearly 70 per cent of health institutions lack basic life-saving treatments, according to the WHO.

The lack of access to treatment and repeated attacks on health and nutrition services have also prompted an alert from the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) that many thousands of newborns will die in Sudan by the end of the year.

The care needs of 333,000 children who will be born in Sudan between October and December, along with their mothers was highlighted by UNICEF spokesperson James Elder.

UNHCR, WHO and partners are working to provide urgent assistance inside Sudan and across borders and prevent more deaths.

The UN’s 2023 Sudan Humanitarian Response Plan launched in May remains only 30 per cent funded.

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