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South Sudan: UNHCR warns that hepatitis E risk is growing

Briefing Notes, 9 November 2012

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 9 November 2012, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

With funding depleted for our operations in South Sudan, UNHCR is warning today that capacity to contain an outbreak of hepatitis E among the refugee population is increasingly stretched. The risks will grow if, as currently anticipated, we see fresh inflows of refugees from South Kordofan and Blue Nile states in neighbouring Sudan.

Due to insecurity and worsening humanitarian conditions in South Kordofan and Blue Nile, we expect thousands of new refugees to cross in the next weeks, as soon as roads become passable after the rainy season.

UNHCR and partners (Solidarités International, Goal, Oxfam, IOM, IMC, Medair and MSF together with the national health authorities) are already fighting an outbreak of Hepatitis E in Upper Nile and Unity states, two regions where the disease is endemic and where 175,000 Sudanese refugees are settled.

We have seen 1,050 cases of Hepatitis E in the refugee camps, a virus contracted and spread through consuming contaminated food and water. The disease damages the liver and can be fatal. To date, 26 refugees have died in camps in Upper Nile. This is 10 more deaths since mid-September.

The risk of infection is high in densely populated settings such as refugee camps. This is further exacerbated in the rainy season due to flooding and poor sanitation. Women and small children are the most vulnerable.

Early diagnosis is also crucial for the survival of patients. We are working with the US Centers for Disease Control which has 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, we are promoting better hygiene practices through hundreds of trained community workers. In all camps this community outreach exercise includes active case finding. We have also been working to improve the supply of clean water in the camps, as well as upgrade latrine stances, and provide more hand washing-stations and soap.

These measures have helped to slow the spread of the disease. However, we are struggling to meet the minimum humanitarian standards such as the provision of 15 to 20 litres of safe drinking water per refugee per day or building enough latrines so that each unit is shared by no more than 20 refugees.

The south Sudan operation is seriously underfunded. UNHCR needs a minimum of US$20 million until the end of the year to keep up basic lifesaving activities. Of our revised appeal for $186 million, only 40 per cent has been received so far. International NGOs also need additional funding beyond that amount to ensure that all activities can be carried out as needed.

For further information on this topic, please contact:

  • In Juba, Melita Sunjic, on mobile +211 922 405 681
  • In Nairobi (Regional), Kitty McKinsey on mobile +254 735 337 608
  • In Geneva, Fatoumata Lejeune-Kaba on mobile +41 79 249 3483
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Public Health

The health of refugees and other displaced people is a priority for UNHCR.

Health crisis in South Sudan

There are roughly 105,000 refugees in South Sudan's Maban County. Many are at serious health risk. UNHCR and its partners are working vigorously to prevent and contain the outbreak of malaria and several water-borne diseases.

Most of the refugees, especially children and the elderly, arrived at the camps in a weakened condition. The on-going rains tend to make things worse, as puddles become incubation areas for malaria-bearing mosquitoes. Moderately malnourished children and elderly can easily become severely malnourished if they catch so much as a cold.

The problems are hardest felt in Maban County's Yusuf Batil camp, where as many as 15 per cent of the children under 5 are severely malnourished.

UNHCR and its partners are doing everything possible to prevent and combat illness. In Yusuf Batil camp, 200 community health workers go from home to home looking educating refugees about basic hygene such as hand washing and identifying ill people as they go. Such nutritional foods as Plumpy'nut are being supplied to children who need them. A hospital dedicated to the treatment of cholera has been established. Mosquito nets have been distributed throughout the camps in order to prevent malaria.

Health crisis in South Sudan

Battling the Elements in Chad

More than 180,000 Sudanese refugees have fled violence in Sudan's Darfur region, crossing the border to the remote desert of eastern Chad.

It is one of the most inhospitable environments UNHCR has ever had to work in. Vast distances, extremely poor road conditions, scorching daytime temperatures, sandstorms, the scarcity of vegetation and firewood, and severe shortages of drinkable water have been major challenges since the beginning of the operation. Now, heavy seasonal rains are falling, cutting off the few usable roads, flooding areas where refugees had set up makeshift shelters, and delaying the delivery of relief supplies.

Despite the enormous environmental challenges, UNHCR has so far managed to establish nine camps and relocate the vast majority of the refugees who are willing to move from the volatile border.

Battling the Elements in Chad

Southerners on the move before Sudanese vote

Ahead of South Sudan's landmark January 9, 2011 referendum on independence, tens of thousands of southern Sudanese in the North packed their belongings and made the long trek south. UNHCR set up way stations at key points along the route to provide food and shelter to the travellers during their arduous journey. Several reports of rapes and attacks on travellers reinforced the need for these reception centres, where women, children and people living with disabilities can spend the night. UNHCR has made contingency plans in the event of mass displacement after the vote, including the stockpiling of shelter and basic provisions for up to 50,000 people.

Southerners on the move before Sudanese vote

South Sudan: Food Security Play video

South Sudan: Food Security

Jacob is plowing 20 kilometers far from his own home town, Bor, after having to abandon it due to the ongoing fighting in South Sudan. Now in Mingkaman camp,as a displaced person, this land he plows is all he has after losing farm and cattle back home
South Sudan: Flooding Disaster Play video

South Sudan: Flooding Disaster

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