Juba — At least 26 refugees in South Sudan's Upper Nile State have died from Hepatitis E, out of the reported 1,050 cases recorded in various refugee camps within the young nation, the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) said on Friday.
The virus is contracted and spread through consuming contaminated food and water, causing damage to a persons liver and can be fatal.
The risk of infection, according to UNHCR, was high in densely populated settings such as refugee camps, which reportedly worsened in the rainy season due to flooding and poor sanitation.
"Women and small children were the most vulnerable. Early diagnosis was also crucial for the survival of patients," the agency said in a statement extended to Sudan Tribune.
As part of its intervention, however, UNHCR said it was working with the US Center for Disease Control (CDC), which sent six staff to test water and blood samples and conduct house-to-house interviews on hygiene practices.
"To counter the spread of the disease among the 175,000 Sudanese refugees already in South Sudan, UNHCR was promoting better hygiene practices through hundreds of trained community workers," adds the statement.
Also underway, according to the refugee agency, is a renewed effort to supply clean water in the camps, upgrade latrine stances and provide more hand washing stations and soap. In addition, there was a community outreach exercise, which included active case finding.
"These measures had helped to slow the spread of the disease," UNHCR noted, saying it was striving to meet the minimum humanitarian standards such as the provision of 15 to 20 litres of safe drinking water per refugee per day as well as building enough latrines so that each unit was shared by no more than 20 refugees.
Between 30,000 and 40,000 refugees, UNHCR anticipates, could arrive into South Sudan once the roads are passable, due to insecurity and worsening humanitarian conditions in South Kordofan and Blue Nile.
An estimated 520,000 people, according to a recent UN report, have been displaced or severely affected by conflict in South Kordofan besides some 205,000 refugees from South Kordofan and Blue Nile, who are now in South Sudan and Ethiopia.
Meanwhile, UNHCR says it requires about $20m until the end of the year, to keep up basic lifesaving activities, adding that out of the revised appeal for $186m; only 40% had so far been received.