Cash crunch closing WHO clinics in Sudan war zones
KHARTOUM: Dozens of health facilities supported by the World Health Organization in strife-torn areas of Sudan risk closure due to a lack of funds, exposing one million people to likely epidemics. Eleven clinics have already been shut in Darfur, Blue Nile and South Kordofan where years of fighting between government troops and black African rebels has forced tens of thousands of people to flee their homes.
As an acute cash crunch worsens and with the world’s eyes focused on other conflicts such as Syria, another 49 facilities in these regions are also at risk, the WHO head in Sudan, Naeema al-Gasseer, told AFP. “We don’t have enough funds to continue supporting clinics in remote areas that provide people with health services,” Gasseer said. “About 11 clinics have already been closed and another 49 are facing closure. “We are talking about a million people who can be affected.”
The closures could impact immunization services, while some 323,000 women of child-bearing age and children under five will lack access to health care, she said. “A heightened risk of epidemics is likely... with people having to travel long distances to access available health care services,” Gasseer said. WHO, a United Nations agency, needs about $7 million to operate these clinics over the next year, but is having trouble sourcing the funds.
More than half of these facilities are in Darfur, a vast region the size of France where heavy fighting erupted in 2003. Violence broke out when ethnic minority rebels rose up against President Omar AlBashir, accusing his Arab-dominated government of marginalizing the region. Similar fighting has also plagued Blue Nile and South Kordofan, with tens of thousands of people killed or displaced in these three areas in more than a decade.
Funding for Sudan’s healthcare sector has fallen in the past two or three years. The cash crunch faced by WHO and other NGOs is so severe that many clinics have no money even to buy medicines or to pay staff wages. “Sudan is like a forgotten emergency,” said Adil al-Mahi from Save the Children Sweden, which operates health facilities for children in the conflict zones. “We don’t have funds... to maintain the equipment or for food for malnourished children.”
Save the Children Sweden is phasing out health and nutrition services in 20 centers in South Kordofan, affecting about 200,000 people who it has supported. UN officials insist Sudan still remains a priority for global donors. The United Nations had launched a global appeal to raise raising $952 million to fund humanitarian needs in Sudan in 2016. About 55 percent of that has been raised, which UN officials say is significant considering that donors had to meet other massive aid needs in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Afghanistan. “International donors have stayed the course over the last five years,” said Samantha Newport, spokeswoman for the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, or OCHA.
KHARTOUM: World Health Organization (WHO) representative in Sudan Naeema AlGasseer gives an interview on Dec 5, 2016.