MSF to open additional kala azar treatment site in Malakal, Southern Sudan

November 1, 2010

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MSF to open additional kala azar treatment site in Malakal, Southern Sudan © Jenn Warren

Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is preparing the opening of an additional kala azar referral treatment site in Malakal in Upper Nile State in Southern Sudan. Given the current outbreak of the parasitic disease more capacity to deal with the influx of patients is needed. The new site comes in addition to MSF project sites in Lankien and Pagil and surrounding areas that all treat unusually high numbers of kala azar patients.

‘We are going to support the kala azar ward in the Ministry of Health Hospital in Malakal’, says José Hulsenbek, MSF’s Head of Mission in Southern Sudan, ‘In addition we will also support the Ministry of Health in other locations surrounding the town and currently have an assessment ongoing to see how we can best deal with the reported increase of kala azar cases in this area.’

Malakal has been chosen not only because of the reported increase in patients in the hospital but also to have a good referral site for people from nearby locations. Now that the rainy season is slowly subsiding it will also be possible to refer patients or patients to come themselves from locations further from the hospital allowing MSF and the Ministry of Health to treat more kala azar patients.

Up until the third week of October of this year MSF has treated 1454 patients with a cure rate of 94.5%. Currently MSF is treating 342 patients divided over 7 different locations. If left untreated the disease, transmitted through the bite of the sand fly, is fatal. Treatment includes not only drugs against kala azar but also intensive treatment of associated infections such as pneumonia, diarrhoea and anaemia. In addition there is also focus on malnutrition amongst patients.

MSF is seeing a sharp increase of kala azar patients in its project locations in Southern Sudan since August, which was traditionally the low season for the disease. The peak of the current outbreak is foreseen to be around December and January.

The last big outbreak of the disease was eight years ago. According to MSF’s kala azar specialist, Koert Ritmeijer, there has been a whole new generation that has not built up immunity against the disease since then. ‘Other influencing factors are climatic conditions which favour the sand fly, allowing it to thrive and transmit the disease. High levels of malnutrition in various regions of Southern Sudan because of insecurity and failed harvests compound the problem as it makes people more susceptible to kala azar.’

MSF has signed an agreement with the Ministry of Health to provide supplies, training and supervision in the region around Malakal. In those locations where there is no local capacity available MSF anticipates to send up to 10 international and 50 national staff to support the Ministry of Health in dealing with the increase in patient numbers. Travel to some of these remote locations can be done by boat; however supplies need to be flown in by plane to Malakal first before they can be distributed further.

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