|© UNICEF Sudan/2005/Townsend|
|Helicopters deliver medical supplies for a newly reopened health centre in northern Darfur. The centres are the first full-time medical facilities to reopen in two years.|
By Dorn Townsend
DISA, northern Darfur, Sudan, 20 October 2005 – In rural areas of northern Darfur, UNICEF and its partners have reopened 20 health centres over the last few months to provide local populations with much-needed medical treatment.
The centres are the first full-time medical facilities to reopen in two years. Most of them were either bombed or abandoned earlier in the conflict. The centres will provide basic health care for nearly 135,000 people living in this vast and hard-to-reach region.
New alternatives for Fatimah
Among those who will benefit from the reopening of the health centres is Fatimah Adam, who lives in the town of Disa in northern Darfur. “After the war started, for a long time there were no doctors here and no centres,” she recalls. “Those are reasons that families left their villages.”
When her children got sick Fatimah was left with only two choices: either to consult a local traditional healer or to travel about 120 km across Darfur’s battle lines to visit a hospital.
Neither choice was satisfactory. The ground roots and herb treatments recommended by the traditional healer cost a lot of money and didn’t always cure her children’s diarrhoea or cough. The hospital, located in the town of Kutum, took three days to reach by donkey along a route littered with unexploded bombs and lined by abandoned villages.
|© UNICEF Sudan/2005/Townsend|
|Immunization training in at a health centre in northern Darfur. The health centres are key to UNICEF’s health-promotion efforts.|
Medical care means people will return
Today things have improved. Vital medicines are shipped regularly by helicopter to health centres, which charge no fees and which are staffed by Sudanese medical professionals. Fatimah can be more sure of the quality of care, and the reopened health centre is right in her home town.
The conflict in Darfur has forced nearly two million people to flee their homes. An estimated 1.6 million children are now living in camps around Darfur, while others have fled with their families to neighbouring Chad.
Dr. Zeroual Azzadine, UNICEF Health Programme Officer in northern Darfur, says the health centres will help encourage people who have fled to return to their villages. “Primary health care services had been inadequate in this region, so these centres represent humanitarian assistance but are [also] an important development programme.”
The population of Disa has been increasing once more, from around 6,000 at its lowest to nearly 11,000. The health centre here still needs a new roof. Some of its rooms are still full of rubble or scarred by bullets. But now a health professional is at work every day, ministering to the medical needs of local people. “If we didn’t have this centre and a doctor,” says Fatima Adam, “I don’t think there would be a community here.”
More than just drop-in clinics, the health centres are pivotal points for carrying out UNICEF health promotion campaigns. Vaccines are stored in solar-powered refrigerators; each month hundreds of volunteers gather at the centres for training in how to carry out immunization. The centres also give seminars on HIV/AIDS prevention.
Recent surveys in Darfur by the World Health Organization (WHO) show that UNICEF’s efforts to restore health services are showing results. In areas where UNICEF-supported health centres exist in North Darfur, the number of children dying before their fifth birthday has dropped from 2.5 per 10,000 per day to just 1.7.
Sabine Dolan contributed to this report.