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WHO Reports Hepatitis Outbreak in West Darfur Camps - 2004-08-10


The World Health Organization says Hepatitis E is sweeping camps for internally displaced people in the western Darfur province of Sudan. The agency says it has confirmed more than 620 cases of Hepatitis E, including 22 dead.

The World Health Organization says this is the first time Sudan, and West Darfur in particular, has been hit with Hepatitis E.

WHO spokeswoman, Fadela Chaib, says there is no cure for this disease. While most people recover on their own, she says the fatality rate is high among pregnant women.

"It is worrisome because it could be lethal for pregnant women," she said. "It is 20 percent lethal for pregnant women and there is no cure. So, the most important thing to do is prevention, to have a very good system of water and sanitation and the proper disposal of sanitary waste."

Hepatitis E causes inflammation of the liver. Contaminated water is a major risk factor. The World Health Organization says Darfur's overcrowded camps for internally displaced people are perfect breeding grounds for the disease.

The private aid agency, Doctors Without Borders, says it too is alarmed at the outbreak of Hepatitis E in Darfur's camps. It says it is trying to tackle the problem by providing safe drinking water and by improving sanitary and hygienic conditions in the camps.

Abiy Tamrat is a medical doctor with the Swiss Branch of Doctors Without Borders. He has just returned from a 10-day visit to review the agency's operations in the five camps it runs in west Darfur.

He says people in the camps are facing a severe health crisis, which is likely to get worse now that the rainy season has begun. He says diarrhea remains the number one problem. But, with the rains, he says epidemics of malaria and cholera can be expected. He says people are malnourished and this makes them more susceptible to disease.

"The main thing right now is to ensure a regular and adequate food access to all the camps," he said. "People really depend on this. They have been displaced from their original area. They have little in terms of reserve. So, it is of paramount importance that uninterrupted food supply continues throughout the rainy season."

Dr. Tamrat says Doctors Without Borders is providing special therapeutic feeding to severely malnourished children who are most at risk. The World Health Organization warns that an estimated 10,000 people a month are likely to die from disease without proper care.

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