24 July 2014

South Sudan: Rains and Lack of Toilets Threaten to Make South Sudan Cholera Epidemic Even Deadlier

The cholera epidemic in South Sudan is bad, but now that the rains have begun - in areas where a lack of toilets means a lot of faeces out in the open - it may become much worse.

Poor sanitary conditions and the scarcity of safe drinking water put thousands at risk of being infected with the deadly disease, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said in a statement.

"With thousands of people affected and nearly 100 deaths reported already, the cholera epidemic... has rapidly spread," said Jonathan Pease, who is overseeing ICRC's water and sanitation response.

"The lack of toilets in many areas and the onset of the rainy season mean that faeces are being washed into the rivers from which people have to obtain their drinking water. This can be deadly if appropriate measures are not taken in time."

Cholera broke out in the capital Juba in May, adding to the misery of a population already plagued by months of civil war that has left thousands homeless and disrupted food supplies and health services. Furthermore, aid agencies say that the world's newest nation could be headed for the worst famine since the 1984 Ethiopia famine.

In its latest situation report, the World Health Organization (WHO) said that as of July 20, a total of 4,668 cholera cases had been reported, including 106 deaths.

The report said an investigation is under way to determine reasons behind an increasing number of cases of cholera among children under five years of age, as well as a review to assess factors responsible for the persistent high number of new suspected cases in Tongping and Juba III camps for internally displaced persons.

Cholera is an extremely virulent disease of the small intestine, often accompanied by severe nausea and diarrhoea. It can kill within hours if left untreated, but up to 80 percent of cases can be successfully treated with oral rehydration salts, the WHO says.

In the town of Torit, one of the hardest-hit areas where the local hospital has seen 908 cases, the ICRC has put in place an emergency water treatment system that is providing up to 40,000 South Sudanese with clean, drinkable water.

"We tell people that washing hands and boiling water can save their lives," a health worker with the South Sudan Red Cross said in a statement.

Editing by Alisa Tang: alisa.tang@thomsonreuters.com

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