Sudan measles outbreak a 'deadly' combination with severe malnutrition, warns WHO

Disease has killed 30 and spread across 10 states as conflict-hit hospitals struggle to cope

Amani Abdullah, who fled conflict in the Darfur region of Sudan where measles and malnutrition are proving a deadly combination. Reuters
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A measles outbreak combined with severe malnutrition is becoming “deadly” for Sudan, the World Health Organisation warned on Thursday.

The country is braced for the rainy season and a rise in waterborne diseases, as the war drives Khartoum's medical infrastructure close to collapse.

Two-thirds of hospitals in the capital have been affected by the conflict and are not functional, with medical workers displaced, and those remaining suffering from attacks and a severe lack of funding, WHO representative in Sudan Dr Nima Saeed Abid said from Port Sudan.

At least 1,100 people have been killed since war broke out between the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) and Sudan's army on April 15, Dr Abid said, although the numbers are “very underreported” because only functioning hospitals are providing figures to the WHO.

“The public health impact is huge because organisation activities have stopped. We also currently have a major outbreak with 30 deaths,” he said.

This outbreak has spread to 10 states, affecting two – the Blue and White Nile states – more than others.

Other diseases are also a threat.

“Vector control activities have stopped. Malaria, dengue fever, Rift Valley fever – all of these are endemic in Sudan,” he said, with an upcoming rainy season increasing their risk.

Speaking from Chad, which is hosting nearly half of the 850,000 people who have fled Sudan, the WHO's Dr Jean-Bosco Ndihokubwayo said 65 children under the age of five have died due to severe malnutrition.

“Severe malnutrition brings up depression of the immune system and combined with measles … has huge effects,” he said.

Refugees have also arrived across the border from Sudan with “trauma, gunshot wounds, long-delayed illnesses and other effects of infection outbreaks,” said Dr Magdalene Armah, Incident Manager for Sudan crisis.

She also warned about the spread of malaria, cholera and yellow fever in combination with malnutrition and high levels of mental health issues.

The WHO has repeatedly sounded the alarm about the major lack of funding in its operations to deal with Sudan crisis, with only $20m out of its required $178m being met.

Updated: July 27, 2023, 12:44 PM