Outbreaks of cholera and dengue fever have been reported in eastern Sudan, where thousands of people are sheltering as deadly fighting grinds on between the country's military and a rival paramilitary force, the UN health agency said on Tuesday.
According to the World Health Organization, there have been 162 suspected cholera cases admitted to hospitals in the province of Qadarif and other areas along the border with Ethiopia. Eighty cases have been confirmed and 10 people have died of cholera, a bacterial infection linked to contaminated food or water, WHO said.
Sudan was engulfed in chaos in mid-April, when simmering tensions between the military and a powerful paramilitary group exploded into open warfare in the capital of Khartoum and other areas across the east African nation.
The medical charity Doctors Without Borders has set up two centers to treat cholera patients along with two mobile teams in Qadarif. The UN health and refugee agencies have renovated the isolation center for cholera at the Qadarif Teaching Hospital, the province's main medical facility.
Cholera outbreaks are not uncommon in impoverished Sudan. The disease left at least 700 dead and sickened about 22,000 in less than two months in 2017, the latest major outbreak in the country.
WHO said more than 500 suspected cases of dengue were reported across Sudan, most of them in urban centers in Qadarif. Dengue is caused by the dengue virus transmitted to humans through the bite of infected mosquitoes.
The reported figure was “the tip of the iceberg” as the actual number is much higher, given that most of the patients rely on home remedies and often do not go to hospitals, WHO said.
The Sudanese doctors union says “hundreds” of dengue patients have died in the east of the country, describing the outbreak as “a health crisis.” It did not give a timeframe for those fatalities or elaborate further but it said that most hospitals in Qadarif have been overwhelmed by patients.
The conflict in Sudan has turned Khartoum and other urban areas into battlefields, wrecking civilian infrastructure and an already battered health care system. Without the basics, many hospitals and medical facilities have closed doors.
At least 5,000 people have been killed and more than 12,000 others wounded, according to the United Nations, though the actual numbers are likely higher. The UN refugee agency said last week that more than 1,200 children under the age of 5 have died in nine camps in Sudan in the past five months because of a deadly combination of measles and malnutrition.
More than 5.2 million people have fled their homes, including more than 1 million who crossed into Sudan’s neighboring countries. Half of the country’s population — around 25 million people — needs humanitarian assistance, including about 6.3 million who are “one step away from famine,” according to UN humanitarian officials.