icon icon icon icon icon icon icon

Sudan: camels provide a lifeline to rural patients in need of help

Image of camels surrounded by boxes of supplies

CARE Sudan is using camels to ship lifesaving medical supplies to remote areas in East and South Jebel Marra in the southwestern section of the country. Photo: CARE Sudan

CARE Sudan is using camels to ship lifesaving medical supplies to remote areas in East and South Jebel Marra in the southwestern section of the country. Photo: CARE Sudan

In the remote village of Gorlangbang, Sudan, Fatima’s daughter was sick, but the medicine she needed was more than 120 miles away.

Either Fatima and her daughter needed to make the journey on unpaved roads, dodging armed conflict, looters, robbery, and worse, or the medicine needed to come to her.

“My 19-month-old daughter was so small, suffering from repeated bouts of diarrhea and skin diseases,” said Fatima. “I was aware that the health clinic in my area had run out of medical supplies for weeks due to the continued conflict.”

“I was afraid that I might lose my extremely sick daughter, like other children who died because of merely preventable diseases.”

In the Marrah Mountains of Central and South Darfur, people have suffered through decades of conflict, limiting access to basic social services. Because of the formidable security and logistical challenges, only a few humanitarian agencies are operating. For CARE Sudan, getting staff and medical supplies to the Marrah Mountain area remains a major challenge.

“I was so worried as I received reports that pregnant women were bleeding to death during delivery and children were dying due to lack of medical supplies,” said Sakina Ahmedi, a physician with CARE Sudan.

Map of southwestern Sudan with a pin marking the Marrah Mountains
The Marrah Mountains are both rugged and rural, equidistant from Al Fashir, the capital of North Darfur and Nyala, the capital of South Darfur – both regions gripped by civil conflict. Image: Google Maps

Clinics cut off

CARE Sudan operates four health centers in Central and South Jebel Marra, in Feina, Kedineer, Gabra, and Gorlangbang, along with three mobile clinics serving Koya, Kalobarry, and Sabon-Alfagour.

These centers provide lifesaving health and nutrition services to vulnerable communities. They also include reproductive health services, including safe delivery, family planning, and referrals, and treating moderate and acute malnutrition in children.

A health worker seated at a desk takes the blood pressure of a patient.
A health worker examines a patient inside the newly constructed health facility in Gorlangbang, funded by USAID. Photo: CARE Sudan

Some of the Jebel Marra health centers ran out of medical supplies between August and November as Sudan’s conflict continued, making it very difficult to access these areas. Humanitarian supplies were being looted and not reaching their destinations, according to Faroug Mohammed, a CARE Sudan Health and Nutrition Manager in South Darfur.

Meanwhile, widely interrupted telecommunication services made it challenging to communicate with the communities managing the Jebel Marra health centers. If that weren’t enough, the collapse of the banking system meant staff couldn’t be effectively paid.

Two images of a woman on a donkey and a woman on the back of a motorcycle, behind a driver
Dr. Ahmedi and other physicians and community health workers must use donkeys and motorcycles to access clinics in mountainous regions, as the sites are too hilly for cars and trucks to access. “I was trying hard to catch my breath and not fall, as the donkey struggled to climb the narrow, rocky road,” Dr. Ahmedi recalls. Photo: CARE Sudan

To get Fatima’s daughter what she needed to survive called for creativity and ingenuity. Medical supplies could be transported via motorized convoy as far as Al Fashir, but taking them beyond the regional capital to remote Jebel Marra seemed impossible.

“Back in Al Fashir, the capital of North Darfur, I struggled to finalize the paperwork to allow the delivery of these medical supplies that we secured thanks to funding from USAID,” said Dr. Ahmedi. “I ran to get clearance from the Government Humanitarian Aid Commission and security authorities.”

A long line of people walking and riding donkeys and camels in the countryside
A convoy of camels and donkeys transports medical supplies to Jebel Marra health facilities. Photo: CARE Sudan

Next: the difficult final leg of transport – this time, solved with a time-tested method.

“I worked with community members to transport lifesaving medical and nutrition supplies on camels, the only possible option to take these supplies to our health center up Jebel Marra mountain,” she explained.

“Luckly, we were able to replenish our health and nutrition stock of supplies in these areas through Al Fashir, the capital of North Darfur,” Faroug Mohammed explained.

Image of camels being loaded with supplies
Humanitarian workers load camels with supplies. Photo: CARE Sudan

A delivery of hope

Once the camels arrived, word got around fast.

“Last week, my neighbor told me that she saw camels full of medical supplies in front of the health center serving my village,” Fatima said. “I rushed and took my daughter to the health center and the medical assistant examined her and told me my daughter was suffering from acute malnutrition and associated complications. He gave me some medications for free and asked me to bring her back to the clinic in one week.”

“I am so grateful that my daughter now looks a bit better, and she started to focus and watch kids play around her; I hope she will join them soon,” said Fatima, her eyes full of joyful tears.

Since the beginning of the conflict in Sudan on April 15, CARE-supported clinics have provided health services to 40,748 people in remote and hard-to-reach areas in East and South Jebel Marra.

A CARE medical assistant provides free health service to a patient in Jebel Marra. Photo: CARE Sudan

Movement is essential

But these services are not enough. Without freedom to travel with some degree of security, some conditions simply cannot be treated.

A group of people sitting and standing in front of a building
Patients wait to receive health services in the newly established facility in Gorlangbang, Sudan. Photo: CARE Sudan

“While I was in Kedineer Health Center, I examined a 22-year-old female patient suffering from chronic lower abdominal pain for over two years,” Dr. Ahmedi said. “Sadly, I needed to do an ultrasound to finalize my diagnosis, which is not available in the village. The patient needs to travel to Al Fashir to do that.”

“With the conflict and looting of passenger buses it is not safe for her to travel to seek medical consultation. This patient might die if the fighting does not stop immediately.”

“Vulnerable women need to travel freely and safely to access health services without fearing attacks, looting and all forms of gender based violence.”

Marie David

“Loss of life, mass displacement, gender-based violence, hunger, cholera are all on the rise and occurring at an alarming rate,” she added, placing Jebel Marra’s challenges in a bigger context. “Between 70 and 80 percent of hospitals in conflict-affected areas are no longer functional. This crisis demands more attention and funding.”

Humanitarian needs in Jebel Marra are unprecedented, she emphasized, and CARE Sudan needs more funding to expand service and impact.

Back to Top