20 August 2004

Sudan: More Hepatitis Cases Reported in West Darfur

Nairobi — Relief agencies in the troubled Sudanese state of West Darfur have set up a working group to monitor and coordinate activities to stem the spread of Hepatitis E, as cases of the disease continue to be reported, the United Nations said.

The UN, in a update issued on Thursday, said more cases had been reported in the areas of Mournei, Kerenek and Foro Buranga. The three towns host large concentrations of internally displaced persons (IDPs) who have fled their homes as a result of attacks by militia, and fighting between Sudanese government forces and rebels.

The deadly viral infection was first reported on 22 May. Some 27 people had died across Darfur region by 15 August, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said. Over 1,000 had been affected. Most of the those infected were female and suffered from jaundice, fever, abdominal pain, vomiting and some were in coma.

Apart from strengthening surveillance, mass chlorination of water, an aggressive hygiene campaign, construction of pit latrines and provision of safe drinking water especially to pregnant women had been undertaken, WHO said.

Hepatitis is a waterborne disease usually transmitted through water that is contaminated with feaces. It kills five percent of those infected, and is especially dangerous to pregnant women. According to WHO, refugees and IDPs living in overcrowded camps are at the highest risk of infection.

WHO said it was conducting additional field investigations aimed at enhancing control measures and gaining a better understanding of how the virus was transmitted in the IDP and refugee camps.

Last week, the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) warned that unless immediate action was taken to avert the spread of the disease in Darfur, it could spread quickly among the hundreds of thousands of IDPs living in camps with poor sanitation.

It said while Hepatitis E usually had a fatality rate of 1 to 4 percent, the virus was several times more lethal when it infected pregnant women.

"This strain of the disease can be fatal for up to 20 percent of pregnant women, and is particularly dangerous for those in their third trimesters," Henia Dakkak, a doctor working for UNFPA said in a statement.

In one camp where the virus had been detected in West Darfur, UNFPA said, six of the eight people who died were pregnant women. "But this outbreak highlights the urgency of greater international support for all sectors, from food to water and sanitation to health care," UNFPA's Executive Director, Thoraya Ahmed Obaid, said.

Meanwhile, WHO said the incidence of malaria in Darfur was on the increase. Between 3 July and 6 August, some 104,859 cases were reported in the IDP camps. While 80 percent of the Sudanese people already lived in malaria endemic areas, the IDPs, especially those in camps near areas that had been flooded by recent heavy rains areas, faced a greater risk.

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