Cholera and Conflict: South Sudan Seeing Huge Cholera Outbreaks Amidst Violence in Region

*Originally published on RYOT.org on July 22nd, 2015 by Sean Sawyer*

South Sudan is facing a cholera outbreak…again.

Last year, at least 167 South Sudanese people died from the disease and so far about 39 have passed since June and have had over 1,200 cases of cholera, according to the World Health Organization. The majority of these cases and deaths are centered around the county Juba, located in the south of the country.

Due to the ongoing conflict and fighting in South Sudan, many of the people were unable to find clean water. One humanitarian group, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), created a hospital called Denthoma 1 for displaced South Sudanese refugees. When they came back in mid-May, the hospital and pharmacies were looted, and the water system stopped working and had bullet holes in the water tanks. As a result, MSF had found out that the people were drinking untreated river water for at least three days. Drinking untreated water in the area is an easy way to spread disease like cholera.

“It’s a race against time to prevent the spread of cholera up the river Nile, especially during the rainy season. Our priority right now is reaching the most vulnerable children who urgently need clean water and vaccinations,” Jonathan Veitch, Unicef representative in South Sudan, said in a statement.

Cholera is a treatable waterborne bacterial disease that can turn lethal if untreated. Officials and health aid workers are afraid that lack of funding and the fighting in the area will not allow them to contain the disease.

“In response to the outbreak, health partners have set up cholera treatment centers and oral rehydration points in [Juba and Bor counties], and are conducting cholera prevention activities, including hygiene promotion and improvement of access to safe drinking water,” the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported.

07-21-2015WHO_Cholera

WHO is supporting oral cholera vaccination campaigns in South Sudan as part of the efforts to prevent a potentially large-scale outbreak. (Photo: WHO/M. Moyo)

The South Sudanese people have been through enough. They declared their independence in 2011, but the new nation is unable to help itself. Civil war broke out in 2013 after President SalvaKirr accused his former deputy of planning a coup. This set off a cycle of retaliatory killings that split the country along ethnic lines. Since then, 2.5 million people have been facing severe food shortages and 2 million have been driven from their homes. The country split from Sudan in 2011 to escape the same type of treatment.

UN_Mission_Bor_South_Sudan

Civilians crowd to enter the United Nations Peacekeeping Mission base in Bor, South Sudan, seeking protection from escalating ethnic violence in 2013. (Photo: United Nations Mission in South Sudan)

Young children in the area face genocidal treatments. Boys have been viciously attacked and mutated, girls as young as the age of 8 have been gang raped and murdered, and everyone is subject to gruesome deaths like being burned alive.

hunger_Fotor

Photo: UNICEF South Sudan/Kate Holt

And in the rainy season they are in right now, about 70 percent of the country – about 7.9 million of the 11.6 million population – are facing extreme food scarcity. “The lives of more than a quarter of a million children are at risk from rapidly worsening nutrition,” OCHA continued. “In half the states, one in three children suffers from acute malnutrition.”

“This cholera outbreak is a wake-up call for the government and the aid world to redouble efforts to tackle a worsening cycle of misery,” Zlatko Gegic, director of Oxfam, said in a recent statement. “Money is urgently needed to fund an immediate surge in action to tackle the disease. The U.N.’s emergency aid appeal for the country is only 41 percent funded and without an extra injection of funds, and urgent action, deaths rates will only increase.”

The people of South Sudan have been through enough and the last thing that these people need is to die from a preventable disease.

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