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Risk of Epidemics in LRA-Ravaged South Sudan

The World Health Organization says Ezo County in southern Sudan is at high risk of epidemic-prone diseases. It says health facilities in this area have been badly damaged by repeated attacks by the Ugandan rebel Lord's Resistance Army.

The World Health Organization says the rebel Lord's Resistance Army is continuing its campaign of terror in Western Equatoria State in southern Sudan. The LRA attacks have intensified in recent weeks, reportedly causing more than 80,000 people to flee their homes.

The United Nations reports Ezo County, which lies near the borders of the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Central African Republic, has been repeatedly attacked by the Ugandan rebels in recent months.

In mid-August, the Lord's Resistance Army mounted a particularly vicious attack, looting and burning local houses and churches, killing and wounding civilians and abducting 10 young girls.

World Health Organization Spokesman Paul Garwood tells VOA the rebels also ransacked health facilities.

"What we know is that health facilities have been damaged during this recent violence," he said. "By damaging health facilities you firstly damage a neutral target, something that should always be protected and then you prevent people from accessing health services by destroying and stopping that health facility from operating."

Ezo County is largely inaccessible to humanitarian workers. Garwood says surveillance officers have limited movement in Ezo, making it impossible for them to fully gauge the scale of the health needs.

But he says they have reported an increase in the number of cases of malaria. He says after the August attacks many people hid in the jungle for days without proper shelter or mosquito nets, making them vulnerable to becoming infected with the disease.

Garwood says the World Health Organization recently brought in enough medicines and supplies to treat 10,000 people for three months suffering from a variety of illnesses, including malaria and diarrhea. But, he notes much more is needed and could be provided if security was better and aid agencies were able to get into the area.

"It is clear that more is needed and more can be provided if access was improved and insured for humanitarian actors," said Garwood. "WHO is also supporting disease surveillance activities in all counties within Western Equatoria State in South Sudan. WHO is also planning to train health care workers in affected areas on the management of common illnesses including treating malaria, diarrhea, skin diseases."

Garwood says there is a shortage of health care workers because many are among the displaced. He says there is great concern that the severe shortage of food may lead to malnutrition in children and pregnant women.

He says National Immunization Days scheduled to take place in August were not conducted because of the rebel attacks and growing insecurity. He says this leaves many children susceptible to measles, polio and other life-threatening diseases.