Disease fight draws doctor to help in Sudan

Dr Andrea Atkinson with a patient and mother in South Sudan.
Dr Andrea Atkinson with a patient and mother in South Sudan.

FROM the sky, South Sudan’s Bentiu protection of civilian camp looks orderly.

But on the ground, the tens of thousands of tents house more than 100,000 displaced South Sudanese people trapped between war and illness.

Malaria is rife in the camp, in part due to its proximity to a swamp, which is a breeding ground for mosquitoes.

In three months, more than 16,000 children were treated for the disease, which often strikes children 5-6 times in as many months, leaving them weak and anaemic.

Shelley doctor Andrea Atkinson returned from South Sudan after a six-month deployment with Médecins Sans Frontières.

She said the outbreak of malaria hits hard in the barren camp where patients are treated on mats on the ground with basic health care, limited resources and minimal staff.

“The hospital is a series of tents, people are treated on the ground or metal cots,” Dr Atkinson said.

“It is different from anything I have ever seen.”

The camp is full of mostly women and children waiting for peace after many men either died fighting or are out in the battlefield.

“People are hopeful though. Their villages were destroyed and burnt to the ground, so if they go home they go back with nothing,” she said.

Dr Atkinson said she was drawn to MSF as a child in Zimbabwe, and was attracted particularly to the impartiality of the service that provides medical aid to everyone.

Currently in obstetrics at Fiona Stanley Hospital, Dr Atkinson said she was eager to find ways to use her experience in her everyday practice in Perth.