May 19, 2014 (JUBA) – The UN children’s fund (UNICEF) is calling for $10 million to help address a cholera outbreak in South Sudan, warning that the disease is rapidly spreading.
South Sudan’s ministry of health announced 18 confirmed cases of cholera in the capital, Juba. However, a report released by Oxfam on Monday cites 138 cholera cases.
There have been three confirmed deaths so far, with dozens of children among the affected.
UN agencies say new cases have since been reported in Jonglei and Upper Nile states.
Oxfam’s South Sudan country director, Cecilia Milan, says the rise in cholera cases in Juba and other states posed a critical threat to lives of thousands of people.
“The confirmation of 138 cholera cases in Juba is a stark reminder of the multitude of risks the citizens of this country have been forced to endure since conflict broke out in December 2013,” said Milan in a statement extended to Sudan Tribune on Monday.
“There is no question the international community must act now to prevent a rapidly escalating food crisis and now potentially a public health emergency in South Sudan,” she added.
Stephane Dujarric, a spokesperson for the UN secretary-general, told reporters in New York that according to UNICEF cholera caseloads are rapidly increasing in South Sudan and that the highly contagious disease appears to be spreading due to poor water and sanitation infrastructure in the new nation.
“UNICEF says it urgently needs U$10 million to continue current life-saving operations and increase its cholera prevention work,” he said.
The children’s agency has helped establish a Cholera Treatment Centre (CTC) at the Juba Teaching Hospital. It is also providing medical supplies, including protective gear and equipment, and is currently expanding preventive measures to halt further spread of the disease.
Cholera is an acute intestinal infection caused by ingestion of food or water contaminated with the bacterium Vibrio cholerae. Symptoms include severe diarrhea, nausea or vomiting, muscle cramps and dehydration. If left untreated the contagious disease can have up to a 50 per cent fatality rate.
Treatment and preventative measures, however, are relatively simple and if properly treated the fatality rate is less than 1 per cent.
Both UNICEF and Oxfam have called on international donors at a humanitarian conference in Oslo this week to provide the necessary funds to address the deteriorating humanitarian situation in South Sudan.
“The people of South Sudan have already suffered too much – so many lives have been lost to conflict and so many more stand to be lost due to hunger. We can’t morally sit by and watch a public health crisis take additional lives in South Sudan,” said Milan.
“We need donors to stand behind us and give vital funding to enable us to carry out our work,” she added.
Conflict broke out in South Sudan in mid-December last year amid escalating political tensions within the governing SPLM party. Ongoing violence has led to the displacement of more than 1.3 million people, with thousands seeking refuge at overcrowded UN bases across the country, placing an enormous strain on already limited water and sanitation facilities.
The UN has revised its funding appeal for South Sudan from $1.3 billion to $1.8 billion. Currently, only $515 million has been received.
The UN has projected that by December, 4 million people will be facing starvation, while 7 million will be in need of some form of humanitarian assistance.
UNICEF has warned that at least 80 per cent of children under of the age of five in the three most conflict-affected states – Jonglei, Upper Nile and Unity – “are at heightened risk of disease and death”.
The UN agency also says around 50,000 children could die from malnutrition, while 740,000 children under the age of five are at high risk of food insecurity.