Malaria on the Rise in South Sudan

Despite the hard work of NGOs and other nonprofits in the area, South Sudan is currently reporting 1.6 million cases of malaria. Aweil, a rural area in the northwest corner of the country, has been hit the hardest, according to recent reports.

Organizations like Chris Flowers’s J.C. Flowers Foundation have made progress—saving 736,700 lives and investing $13 billion into treatment and prevention techniques—but the problem continues to be dire for the locals.

The only major hospital in Aweil is also a base for the United Nations in South Sudan, as well as an operation hub for several other aid agencies—largely Doctors Without Borders. In conjunction with the Ministry of Health, Doctors Without Borders serves about 1.2 million people. The hospital is also the only functioning public hospital blood bank in the entire state of Northern Bahr el Ghazar.

Malaria is the leading cause of death and illness in the area, and the current outbreak is the worst ever seen. Nearly 1.6 million malaria cases have been reported so far, with the number of cases in most areas doubling since last year.

“Usually around December we would be reaching the end of the malaria season,” said Claire Nicolet, Project Manager for Doctors Without Borders in Aweil, “but we are still treating around 130 patients a week who have severe malaria.”

Two of the biggest problems are severely limited supplies and the prohibitive cost of prescriptions for patients. When malaria is first diagnosed, the patient is generally advised to get medication from a pharmacy in town. But the medication costs 25 South Sudanese pounds (about $1.25 American dollars)—more than most can afford. So the patient generally goes home and waits for the disease to become more extreme, at which point the need for medication becomes even more dire.

As if the malaria situation weren’t bad enough, South Sudan is also suffering from cholera outbreaks, food shortages for about 80% of the population, and the consequences of a two-year civil war.

Still, organizations like Doctors Without Borders and the JC Flowers Foundation are bringing hope to this troubled area—even if their work is far from done.