How do you provide health services to 10,000 Sudanese refugees in a muddy field?

International Medical Corps is providing lifesaving health, nutrition and sanitation services to the refugees who have recently arrived in South Sudan, no matter the weather or challenges of the 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 center known as KM 18 to Yusuf Batil Camp in Maban County, South Sudan. Most new arrivals are forced to simply camp out under the stars, as 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 medical consultations for 383 patients, treating complaints common to refugee populations around the world like 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 years of age 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 program run by partners, 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 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 due to our long history of emergency response around the globe. Many of these health issues could be relatively easily addressed if the site were 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 into a glutinous mess that sticks to your boots, adding an extra 20 pounds to your weight and making the simplest task very hard work. Staying clean has become almost impossible.

The weather has also interrupted our supply chain. The road from Malakal, the 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 get fuel for our vehicles. United Nations flights from Malakal have also stopped landing at the nearby airfield because of the risk of crashing on the wet and muddy surface.

Nonetheless, International Medical Corps staff and volunteers are making huge efforts in Maban County to overcome the many challenges caused by this severe environment to save lives, which are now in even greater danger as a result of the weather. Leading this team has been an incredible privilege. I am proud to work with people who are so dedicated to helping others that they are willing and eager to overcome treacherous conditions to deliver lifesaving services to this extremely vulnerable community.

Help us save lives.