WHO investigates unidentified disease after nearly 100 people die in South Sudan

WHO has sent a rapid response team to begin risk assessment

Thomas Kingsley
Tuesday 14 December 2021 18:17
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The World Health Organisation (WHO) has launched an investigation into the death of nearly 100 people by an unidentified disease in the Fangak, Jonglei State of South Sudan.

A special WHO task force has been sent to the region after health officials confirmed last week that dozens had died in the area which has also been struck by devastating flooding.

“We decided to send a rapid response team to go and do risk assessment and investigation; that is when they will be able to collect samples from the sick people – but provisionally the figure that we got was that there were 89 deaths,” WHO’s Sheila Baya told the BBC.

Ms Baya confirmed the team was unable to reach the area due to the floods – which the UN has called the worst in 60 years – and they are awaiting helicopter transport to return to the capital on Wednesday.

South Sudan’s minister of land Lam Tungwar Kueigwong said the flooding had brought with it the increased risk of diseases such as malaria and malnutrition in children as a result of food shortages.

He added that oil from the fields in the region had contaminated the water which has led to the death of domesticated animals too.

Some 835,000 people have been impacted by floods in South Sudan with 35,000 people displaced according to the UN. Leaders in the hardest-hit regions are calling the floods the worst since the 1960s.

“We are feeling climate change. We are feeling it,” said John Payai Manyok, the country’s deputy director for climate change.“We are feeling droughts, we are feeling floods. And this is becoming a crisis. It’s leading to food insecurity, it’s leading to more conflict within the area because people are competing for the little resources that are available.”

International charity Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), which operates in the area, said the chaos caused by the flooding is now ramping up the pressure on the health facilities.

MSF said: “We are extremely concerned about malnutrition, with severe acute malnutrition levels two times the WHO threshold, and the number of children admitted to our hospital with severe malnutrition doubling since the start of the floods.”

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