Hurry up and wait! That seemed to be the theme of the day. I landed in Juba, South Sudan for the refugee emergency in Maban county, Upper Nile State. MSF is has been treating patients in two refugee camps (Jamam and Doro) since January 2012 but in early May there was a sudden influx of 35,000 refugees across the border at El Fuj and we had an emergency on our hands.
These refugees, fleeing violence in Blue Nile State, Sudan, had already been walking for weeks, surviving on minimal water and berries. They initially gathered at the first point that had water, a day’s walk from El Fuj, but the water soon ran out and the refugees had to walk a second day to a point 18km from Jamam camp. They are arriving in such an emaciated state that our medical staff are struggling to revive them. They have gone too long without food and water.
My role as an epidemiologist is to get a handle on how big the emergency is. We measure this through the mortality rate. I need to somehow measure what proportion of the population is dying every day. To most people it’s not an appealing job but this data will guide the nature and size of our intervention. And ensure we give these people the most appropriate help. Help they so desperately need.
But of course I had to get there first. Drove to Juba airport at 8am and waited for 2 hours. Got through customs and waited for 1 hour. Got to the MSF plane and waited for 1 hour. Flew for 3 hours to Doro over empty land and waited for 1 hour. And then drove 2 hours to Jamam. A whole day’s travelling, lots of hanging around, while being desperate to start my job, but finally arrived at 6pm raring to go. But it’s too late and I need to be briefed. The situation is changing here daily. But the emergency coordinator isn’t here. She’s trying to do a million things at once. So I have more waiting to do……