Leprosy community in South Sudan struck by famine and at risk of disease and attack

The fighting continues in South Sudan. More than three million people have been forced from their homes. Hundreds of thousands of people have been killed. 7.5 million people will need humanitarian aid in 2017 alone.

For the leprosy community in Malek in Jonglei State, the outlook is bleak. The community has always lived in extreme poverty but has survived despite social exclusion and disabilities caused by leprosy. Now, food shortages, outbreaks of cholera and attacks by the local Murle people are just three of many hazards faced by the community in addition to state unrest.    

“The situation for the leprosy-affected community in Malek is desperate” said Dr. Yousif Deng, Country Leader for The Leprosy Mission in South Sudan, after his recent visit to Malek. “The local government distributes food once every two months, but the village chief tells me that the Malek Community is always last to receive supplies after all the other villages. The people urgently need cooking oil and maize flour.”

Dr Yousif continued: “There have been outbreaks of cholera nearby and deaths have been reported, and with the rainy season approaching we need antibiotics, anti-malaria drugs and mosquito nets.” 

“Not only does the community face starvation and disease, there is an ever-present threat of attack from a particular local ethnic group. Two women from Malek were recently killed after they went out to collect firewood.”  

Sian Arulanantham, Head of Programmes at The Leprosy Mission said, “The situation is critical.  In disaster situations is it usually disabled people that are the last to receive aid.  Discrimination against those affected by leprosy is an added barrier to them accessing assistance.  The Leprosy Mission is keen to do all it can to make sure this vulnerable community receives the essential supplies needed to keep them alive until the next harvest.”

The conflict in South Sudan has made working in Jonglei State difficult and access very dangerous due to armed groups. Unfortunately, the insecurity has meant that it has not been possible for The Leprosy Mission to support the long-term development of this community as planned. Despite the conflict, it will continue to work in South Sudan primarily focusing on supporting those affected by leprosy near the capital, Juba.