The UN refugee agency on Friday warned that its capacity to contain an outbreak of hepatitis E among the refugee population in South Sudan was increasingly stretched at a time when funding for its emergency operation was depleted. "
The risks will grow if, as currently anticipated, we see fresh inflows of refugees from South Kordofan and Blue Nile states in neighbouring Sudan," spokesman Adrian Edwards added.
Due to insecurity and worsening humanitarian conditions in South Kordofan and Blue Nile states, UNHCR staff on the ground expect thousands of new refugees to cross in the next weeks as roads become passable after the rainy season.
UNHCR and its partners, including South Sudan's 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 have found shelter.
"We have seen 1,050 cases of hepatitis E in the refugee camps," said Edwards. "To date, 26 refugees have died in camps in Upper Nile. This is 10 more deaths since mid-September," he added.
The hepatitis E virus is contracted and spread through consuming contaminated food and water. It damages the liver.
Potentially fatal, 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. Edwards said UNHCR was working with the United States Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, which has sent six staff to test water and blood samples and conduct house-to-house interviews on hygiene practices.