Dengue surges in war-torn Sudan as healthcare system nears collapse

People board a truck as they leave Khartoum, Sudan
People board a truck as they leave Khartoum, Sudan - AP Photo

Dengue cases in Sudan’s war-ravaged capital are surging as the country’s healthcare system nears collapse.

A hospital in Khartoum recently identified 720 new cases of the virus, which spreads mainly through mosquito bites.

Healthcare workers suspect the new outbreak has been caused by the accumulation of medical waste, including human organs, outside of vital healthcare facilities, and a lack of sanitation.

Sudan descended into chaos last year when fighting erupted in Khartoum between the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) and the Sudanese Armed Forces.

The RSF’s violence has echoes of Sudan’s genocide that began almost 20 years ago and experts fear the conflict could soon descend into civil war.

Since April, the conflict has killed more than 14,700 people and displaced 5.6 million, according to the UN.

Khartoum is a ghost town with 20 to 30 per cent of its pre-war population remaining, many of whom live without access to clean water, sanitation and sustainable food supplies.

A total of 70 per cent of Khartoum’s healthcare facilities have closed their doors since the conflict began, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Many facilities are reserved for wounded members of the RSF.

Local officials at the volunteer-run Khartoum Bahri emergency room have said this has severely limited their ability to control the outbreak of dengue.

“We’ve identified over 720 suspected dengue fever cases, including six deaths, concentrated in Al-Shabia, Al-Mazad and Al-Hijra neighbourhoods,” a member of the emergency room said.

Aerial bombardments during clashes between the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces and the army in Khartoum are ongoing
Aerial bombardments during clashes between the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces and the army in Khartoum are ongoing - REUTERS/Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah

The official pointed to worryingly high infection rates in highly-populated areas, including 30 new cases in Al-Mazad and 20 in Shambat.

Khartoum has a critically low level of essential medications, including tests for dengue fever which could mean cases are much higher than reported to date.

Pain relievers, rehydration solutions, vitamins and tests for malaria and typhoid are also in short supply.

Residents have been urged to seek medical attention if suffering from dengue symptoms and advised against self-medicating.

Dengue is a viral infection more common in tropical and subtropical climates. The most common symptoms are high fever, headache, body aches, nausea and rash.

Severe forms of dengue, also called dengue haemorrhagic fever, are fatal in more than 50 per cent of cases, according to the WHO.

These infections exhibit a sudden onset of fever, malaise, headache, and myalgia followed by pharyngitis, vomiting, diarrhoea, skin rash, and haemorrhagic manifestations.

There is no specific treatment for dengue and the focus is on treating symptoms.

Globally, the incidence of dengue has grown dramatically in recent decades; the number of cases reported to the WHO increased from 505,430 in 2000 to 5.2 million in 2019.

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