By Julius N. Uma
February 19, 2012 (JUBA) — South Sudan’s health ministry on Friday declared the young country meningitis free and denied media reports that an outbreak of the disease had occurred.
The seven month old country lies in Africa’s meningitis belt which includes many parts of countries from West to East.
Lul Riek, the director general for community and public health at South Sudan’s health ministry, said that in the last six weeks, only 24 suspected cases were reported in the country, through weekly surveillance reports.
Of the 24 cases, 20 were reported in Central Equatoria State, while the other four were from other unspecified states.
“[Out] of the reported suspected cases, five specimen of cerebral spinal fluid specimen were collected and sent to AMREF reference laboratory in Nairobi. These specimens tested negative for Neissaria Meningococcal meningitis,” said Riek, in reference to the bacteria that causes meningitis.
The health ministry, he assured the public, remains in full alert to respond to any disease outbreak through its emergency unit.
In the case of meningitis, Riek said the ministry, through the state ministries of health, rapidly responded by investigating all suspected cases after samples collected were tested and found to be negative.
“As a ministry, we have also strengthened the surveillance systems at all levels for early detection of the disease. We are now prepositioning drugs, vaccines and laboratory supplies to counter any outbreak,” Riek told journalist at a press conference in Juba, the South Sudan capital.
However, to ensure timely response to any meningitis outbreak, the health ministry has reportedly prepositioned outbreak investigation kits and trained epidemic preparedness and response teams, charged with promptly responding and investigating outbreaks.
“Further still, the ministry of health has also developed an epidemic preparedness and response plan to support the response to the reported suspected meningitis in the country,” the community and public health director, said.
Abdinasir Abubakar, an official with World Health Organization (WHO) in Juba said he remains optimistic that any outbreak of meningitis will be controlled, reiterating WHO’s continued commitment towards providing technical support to the health ministry.
The last cases of meningitis in South Sudan, according to health officials, were reported in 2008 with more than five states said to have been affected.
In a related development, the ministry of health also refuted claims of measles outbreak reported in the country, saying all efforts are underway to respond to verify rumors of any suspected cases.
At least 140 suspected measles cases, the ministry says, have been reported in the country since the beginning of this year.
In response, however, the health ministry has reportedly conducted thorough investigations, collected 295 samples in 2011 and carried out mass measles campaigns in most of the states.