Kala-azar rates increase in eastern Sudan as schools stay closed

Spraying campaign to combat epidemics in El Gedaref (Photo: Sudan News Agency)

The Minister of Health and Social Development in El Gedaref in eastern Sudan, Ahmed El Ameen, has reported a significant increase in the rate of kala-azar (visceral leishmaniasis) disease in the state. Meanwhile, the El Gedaref government postponed the start of the school year, which was scheduled for Sunday. 

The state recorded more than a thousand kala-azar* cases in the first quarter of this year compared to 750 cases during the same quarter of last year, an increase of 25 per cent. The health minister said that an increase in deaths accompanies the infections. 

He said that addressing the disease begins with combating sand flies and their activity inside and outside homes, using mosquito nets, and regular spraying operations.  

He also explained the importance of awareness in combating the disease. The Ministry of Health in El Gedaref has launched a major campaign to combat disease spread under the slogan: ‘Kala-azar control begins at home’.  

More than 400 staff are participating in the campaign at a cost of SDP300 million and under the technical supervision of the federal Ministry of Health. The campaign will run for an entire month. 

“The ministry also seeks to address the problems and challenges related to kala-azar through the comprehensive general conference on the subject, which it will hold with the participation of representatives from concerned areas, partners, and donors,” he said. 

Eastern Sudan has a dark history with kala-azar, as from the late eighties to the mid-nineties a total of 100,000 died from the disease in the Upper Nile region, now South Sudan. 

School postponement 

Abdelwahab Ibrahim, the acting director of the El Gedaref Ministry of Education and Guidance, announced the postponement of the opening of schools yesterday. Schools were set to reopen on May 26. The new opening date has not yet been announced. 

In a press statement, he attributed the delay to the challenge of emptying shelters for displaced people, providing teachers with benefits, and preparing the school environment.  Previously, the ministry has proposed transferring the displaced from school shelter centres in the city of El Gedaref to schools with large yards with space to construct shelters. 

He indicated that all obstacles obstructing the process of opening schools will be resolved within the next few days. 

Earlier this year, the South Darfur Sudan Teachers’ Committee dismissed the decision made by the state Minister of Education to open schools, describing it as “lacking realism.” The war must stop to resume school, the teachers told Radio Dabanga on May 20. “Over 350,000 teachers, administrators, and workers in the education sector are living in catastrophic conditions.”  

They also demand that the Sudanese authorities provide teachers’ salaries, rehabilitate school buildings, and deliver textbooks. 

Authorities in Atbara, River Nile state, forced displaced people sheltering in two schools to leave the shelters on April 29. At the time, Ammar Yousef of the Sudanese Teachers’ Committee warned of catastrophic results if the opening of the schools in all states does not happen at the same time. 

After the war began, at least 10,400 schools had to close in conflict-affected areas, leaving about 19 million children without education. 

* Visceral leishmaniasis, the most severe form of leishmaniasis also known as kala-azar, is a life-threatening disease caused by Leishmania parasites which are transmitted by female sandflies. Visceral leishmaniasis causes fever, weight loss, spleen and liver enlargement, and, if left untreated, a certain death. It is the world’s second-largest parasitic killer, after malaria.