Disease Kills Thousands in Sudan

According to the World Health Organization, there are 500,000 new cases of kala azar  per year.  Kala azar is a deadly epidemic spreading through impoverished regions in sub-Saharan Africa, Brazil and Southeast Asia.  Africa's Sudan is one of the countries hardest hit by this disease. 

Over the years, civil war, famine and drought have taken their toll on the Sudanese.  Another constant enemy is disease.  A new epidemic of kala azar is sweeping through southern Sudan, killing thousands.

Kala azar is a brutal disease, easily and quickly spread.  Dr. Erwin de Vries is with Medecins Sans Frontieres [Doctors without Borders], or M-S-F.

"You catch it like malaria -- from a sand fly -- and it wastes you as if you have HIV/AIDS, he says"

Kala azar is a systemic disease affecting the immune system.  Its symptoms include fever, anemia, weakness and wasting. 

"Within a few months time you will look like a skeleton and you will be dead," adds the doctor.

M-S-F physicians are battling the epidemic.  Resistant strains of the disease have developed. 

The treatment for kala azar with compounds of Antimony takes 17 days to work.  An experimental vaccine is undergoing clinical trials.  For those who can get treatment, the survival rate in Sudan is 90 percent.

But health facilities are limited in Sudan.  A recent UN report estimates there is only one doctor for every 100,000 people in southern Sudan.  And malnutrition is making a bad situation worse.

Pete Buth is M-S-F's Operational Director in southern Sudan. "People are facing a daily struggle for survival because of a lack of food, because that is normal in this place."

The European Union recently allocated 165 million euros to help battle disease in Africa.  Sudan will be the biggest recipient.

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