MSF health promoter Aisha is talking with the community members and leaders of the Um Sangour camp. Sudan, 2023. © Mazin Al-Hadi/MSF © Mazin  Al-Hadi/MSF

Sudan: “The scale of the needs here is overwhelming”

MSF Health Promoter MSF

MSF health promoter Aisha is working in the three camps in the White Nile region, Sudan, supporting communities of internally displaced people and refugees.

I can’t find the right words to describe the conditions people are living in. I’ve witnessed women giving birth and caring for their newborns in overcrowded and overheated tents, without access to clean water or proper sanitation.

I’ve been here before, back in 2020, and even then, the White Nile refugee camps were already struggling to meet the basic needs of people. Now, five months into the conflict, with nearly half a million internally displaced people and refugees living across ten camps in the White Nile, the situation has reached a critical point. People have lost their jobs and livelihoods, and what makes it even worse is that no one knows when this situation will end.

As a health promoter, my job is to provide health education, identify the social aspect of people’s needs – and most importantly engage with the community by listening to stories of individuals. I want to share one of those stories with you.

In the Alagaya camp, the second largest refugee camp in the White Nile state, I met a mother of three who had fled the conflict in Khartoum. Her youngest child was suffering from malnutrition, and it was clear to the doctors that we would need to refer the child to a hospital outside the camp for proper treatment. However, it’s common for mothers to be reluctant to leave their families and children to make the trip, and she was no exception.

I spent hours talking to her, explaining the benefits of taking her child to the hospital, assuring her that MSF would provide transportation and medication. She hesitated because she didn’t want to leave her other two children in the camp. Once we assured her that she would be able to travel with all her children, she eventually agreed, and went to gather her belongings.

Aisha was working with MSF in the White Nile state camps already in 2020. She came back to support the activities, when MSF restarted its activities in the camps in June 2023 as a response to the crisis aggravated by the conflict. Sudan, 2023. © MSF

Upon her return, to my surprise, not only one but all her children were sick. I asked her why she hadn’t informed us about the state of the other two children, and it turned out she thought we wouldn’t provide care for all of them. Eventually, we managed to arrange referrals to the hospital for all her children.

I, too, am an internally displaced person, and I understand the struggles of the community on a personal level. Balancing my role as a health promoter with my own experiences can be challenging. I listen to the stories of the people here, and I’m reminded that everyone has their personal experience. 

Despite the volume of work, we are doing to provide humanitarian assistance in three camps, it’s not easy and the needs are huge. But I’m grateful to have a strong team by my side, and I appreciate the dynamic of the team in which I feel supported – everyday.