By Peter Medway, Emergency Response Leader, Maban South Sudan
International Medical Corps is providing lifesaving health, nutrition and sanitation services to the refugees that have recently arrived in South Sudan, no matter what the weather or the challenges of their remote location. The realities of delivering that help can sometimes seem overwhelming when we find ourselves knee deep in mud and cut off from supplies by the rains.
Over the past week more than 10,000 refugees have been transported from a desolate transit centre known as KM 18 into Yusuf Batil Camp, in Maban County, South Sudan. Most new arrivals are forced to simply camp out under the stars since the supply of tents has not kept pace with arrivals.
Last Thursday International Medical Corps set up our first health post inside the camp, with four staff working from inside a cramped tent. In two days we provided consultations for 383 patients, treating complaints common to refugee populations around the world- diarrhea, eye and skin infections and fevers, often a sign of malaria. Meanwhile our nutrition team started moving from tent to tent to screen children under five for malnutrition. Worryingly of the 545 children screened we found 76 with moderate acute malnutrition and 20 with severe acute malnutrition. The most severe cases were immediately referred to a therapeutic nutrition programme run by MSF, but there are currently no supplies to give much needed specially formulated food for those at risk of severe malnutrition. As a result we are expecting more children to become severely malnourished in the short term and to be at risk from diseases that can ravage weakened immune systems. The high rates of diarrhea make the risks even higher.
For International Medical Corps staff, these challenges and conditions are familiar from our long experience of emergency responses and all of these problems could be relatively easily addressed if the site was connected to a road network that allowed movement in the rainy season. Instead several days of rain have left us cut off and operating in flooded fields. The black cotton soil has turned in to a glutinous mess which sticks to your boots, adding an extra 20lbs to your weight and making the simplest task hard work. Staying clean has become almost impossible.
The weather has also interrupted our supply chain. The road from Malakal, capital of Upper Nile State, to Yusuf Batil Camp has been closed for days due to the rain, preventing us from importing essential supplies to build clinics and even to get fuel for the vehicles. UN flights from Malakal have also stopped landing at the nearby airfield because of the risk of crashing on the wet and muddy surface.
International Medical Corps staff and volunteers are making huge efforts to overcome the many challenges caused by this extreme environment to save lives, which are now in even greater danger as a result of the weather. Leading the team has been an incredible privilege and I am proud to work with people who are so dedicated to helping others that they are willing and eager to overcome incredibly challenging conditions to deliver lifesaving services to this community.
Just 22 hours after the devastating 7.0-earthquake hit in January 2010, International Medical Corps’ Emergency Response Team was on the ground in Haiti providing medical care to survivors. Our doctors and nurses were able to mobilise on an unparalleled scale to provide 24-hour emergency care to the acutely injured at the Hôpital de l’Université d’État d’Haiti (HUEH), a 700-bed hospital in Port-au-Prince. HUEH was badly damaged in the earthquake and many local health care professionals were missing. We were able to save thousands of lives through emergency and trauma care in the critical days following the earthquake.
At the height of emergency operations at the hospital, International Medical Corps treated approximately 1,000 patients per day. Our early entry also gave us the foundation to rapidly expand our operations to 15 mobile clinics throughout Haiti to provide critical services. Through the hospital and mobile and fixed clinics, International Medical Corps teams provided more than 110,000 patient consultations during the first year following the emergency.
When reports of acute diarrhoea emerged from the north of Haiti in October 2010, International Medical Corps doctors and nurses immediately deployed to the region providing emergency relief for the growing cholera crisis. Our network of rapidly constructed cholera treatment centres, supported by 820 community health volunteers to educate communities on how to prevent and identify cholera, meant that more than 30,000 cholera patients received life-saving treatment within the first year following the outbreak.
International Medical Corps was among the first organisations to enter Libya once the conflict began in February 2011, providing emergency medical care to casualties from the fighting and support to hospitals with medical staff and supplies. Among the first challenges our Emergency Response Teams encountered was a chronic shortage of nurses, as thousands of foreign nurses had fled the country. In partnership with the Jordan Health Aid Society, International Medical Corps immediately deployed volunteer nurses to health centres across eastern Libya moving them to towns and cities throughout the country as access permitted. Volunteer nurses trained the local counterparts while working alongside them.
At the country’s borders and within Libya, we supplied those displaced by the fighting with essential relief items, including blankets, bottled water and food. Recognising the danger posed by communicable diseases, our sanitation and hygiene specialists constructed latrines and washing stations in transit camps along the Tunisia borders.
As the fighting went on International Medical Corps worked as close to the front line as possible, providing emergency treatment to those injured in the conflict, and medicines and supplies to besieged towns and cities. In Misurata, inaccessible by road, we evacuated nearly 500 injured civilians by boat. International Medical Corps’ mobile field hospitals treated the wounded from battles in Tripoli, the Western Mountains, Bani Walid, Sabha, Jufrah and Qaddafi’s hometown of Sirte.
International Medical Corps mobilized an emergency response in Mali in January 2013 after rebel armed forces from the north began moving south, triggering French military intervention. In Timbuktu, which had spent months under the control of armed Islamist rebel our team were amongst the first international organisations to arrive and found pillaged clinics, missing medical personnel and damaged health infrastructure.
We immediately began supporting eight strategically targeted health clinics in remote areas around Timbuktu, where the Malian Ministry of Health has been unable to maintain adequate services to local communities. By providing medicines, training staff and recruiting qualified doctors and nurses, we can ensure local people will now have access to basic primary and secondary health care for the first time in months
True to our mission to build self reliance, International Medical Corps is also already training community health workers to go out to local markets and spread essential hygiene, reproductive health and nutrition messages. We are also working to rehabilitate clinics damaged during the conflict, by building or repairing latrines, water systems, solar panel systems and other infrastructure repairs, enabling health workers to have stable and well-equipped facilities to help the people of Mali.
Basanti, a young mother of two in Nepal, returned home from fetching water for her family to find her 8-month old son Bishal had fallen into the open cooking fire. Basanti was in shock, but she wrapped her baby in blankets and ran for help. No one in their village or at the local health post knew what to do so she had to travel more than six hours by bus to seek emergency care at the closest hospital. The district hospital could only stabilize Bishal and wasn’t able to treat his wounds properly. As a result, his little fingers contracted into a fist as the burned skin contracted and “healed” over the coming year, making it impossible for him to use his hand. His cheek, lips and eyelid also contracted and tightened, threatening his vision.
After selling part of their farm to pay for transportation to Kathmandu, Basanti sought further treatment for her baby. However, two hospitals in the nation’s capital could not help either. Adding to Basanti’s struggles, her husband abandoned the family, leaving her alone to care for Bishal and his four-year-old sister.
Thankfully, Basanti heard about the surgical care available through ReSurge International, our trusted partner with a 43-year history of serving burn victims. Dr. Rai, ReSurge’s Outreach Director in Nepal, and his team restored Bishal’s eyelid and his hand will soon be surgically repaired as well.
Even though it took more than a year for him to get appropriate treatment, Bishal is one of the lucky ones. Thousands of children never get the care they need to live a normal life after a disabling burn.