News

Deadly Kala Azar Disease Stalks South Sudan

A lady recovering from Kala Azar disease in Old Fangak clinic, South Sudan, April 19, 2012
A lady recovering from Kala Azar disease in Old Fangak clinic, South Sudan, April 19, 2012
Hannah McNeish

In newly independent South Sudan, deadly Kala Azar disease is still raging in some of the most remote areas lacking basic health services.

Standing next to the single tent she now calls home in the scorching sunshine, Alaskan-born Dr. Jill Seaman explained how after coming to South Sudan in 1989 and visiting villages where only five out of 1,000 people had survived a Kala Azar outbreak, she could not tear herself away from this swampland.

“We walked through villages where there was still the ash left from fires, there were still sticks left to tie your cattle up, but there were no people left, you were walking through ghost villages," said Seaman. "And that, plus watching all the skeletal people walking into the clinic every night to get treated and asking them ‘how many people in your family have died?’ and hearing the answer 12, 14, 8, 13 - it kind of bonds you to a community, and I suppose that’s why I’m still here.”

That Kala Azar outbreak killed around half the population in the area, and around half the 11,000 cases reported last year were treated at the clinic in Old Fangak.

Dr. Jill Seaman has dedicated years to fighting Kala Azar disease in South Sudan, April 19, 2012
Dr. Jill Seaman has dedicated years to fighting Kala Azar disease in South Sudan, April 19, 2012

An infectious disease carried by a parasite and transmitted by the bite of a sand fly, Kala Azar causes a fever that does not subside. If left untreated, Dr. Seaman said around 95 percent of Kala Azar patients simply waste away or die after catching other infectious diseases.

Three percent of patients died in Old Fangak last year, but the clinic has already treated 1,800 people with Kala Azar this year.

In a stuffy ward packed with patients laid head to toe on narrow beds, Nyadak Mouk cuddles her five-year-old son, who is suffering from Kala Azar-induced fever.

She walked eight hours from Keew village to reach the clinic. Having lost four of her six children to disease, she said she is not leaving until the boy is cured.

Mouk said she did not bring the other children to the clinic so she does not know why they died. She has been in Old Fangak for six months and fears if she moves away from the treatment center, she will lose her young son as well.

“I don’t know what they died of as I didn’t bring them to the clinic - they died in the village. I now live near the clinic. I left home six months ago, and I can’t be away from it as without treatment he will die,” Mouk said.

Dr. Abdi Nasir, a communicable disease specialist for the United Nations World Health Organization, said Kala Azar usually comes in cycles about every 10 years.

But residents of South Sudan are particularly vulnerable to infection because of attacks from rebel groups which displace thousands of people at a time, compounded by generally poor living conditions and nutrition.

Dr. Nasir said an outbreak that began in 2009 has now affected 25,000 people and still is raging. It is the worst in 30 years.

“We very much hope the outbreak to die down and the number it goes down, but looking at the different factors and the situation, it doesn’t look that way,” said Nasir.

Dr. Nasir expects another 11,000 people will be treated this year, but the treatment doesn't come cheaply. Even at the reduced prices available to WHO, the cure costs around $600 per person, not counting the expense of transporting it to remote places such as Old Fangak.

Dr. Seaman said if the medicines keep coming, the clinic can try and deal with Kala Azar.

But she said lack of food in the area is her primary concern. Last year, the surrounding areas had almost no harvest after heavy rains flooded crops. While more than 350,000 people have come to South Sudan since it gained independence from Sudan in July, further stretching resources, the border has practically been closed, doubling the prices of staple foods.

Health workers in the clinic said malnourished people are more likely to contract the disease as their immune systems are already low, and they are less likely to recover or will relapse.

Back in the ward, patients almost skeletal from the effects of Kala Azar try to regain their strength with plain bean mash that is the only food on offer.

How many lives the disease will claim this year depends on how much food and medicine aid agencies can deliver to this neglected area before next month's rains cut the region off from the world.

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Wini
X
July 28, 2015 12:21 AM
The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Win

The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video Iran Nuclear Pact Wins Few New US Congressional Backers

Later this week, President Barack Obama returns from a trip to Africa to confront a U.S. Congress roiled by the nuclear accord with Iran, an agreement that has received the blessing of the U.N. Security Council. Days of intensive lobbying and testimony by top administration officials have won few new congressional supporters of the pact. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports.
Video

Video Washington DC Underground Streetcar Station to Become Arts Venue

Abandoned more than 50 years ago, the underground streetcar station in Washington D.C.’s historic DuPont Circle district is about to be reborn. The plan calls for turning the spacious underground platforms - once meant to be a transportation hub, - into a unique space for art exhibitions, presentations, concerts and even a film set. Roman Mamonov has more from beneath the streets of the U.S. capital. Joy Wagner narrates his report.
Video

Video Obama Encourages Kenya to Fix Cultures of Corruption, Discrimination

President Barack Obama bid farewell to Kenya Sunday with a major speech at as stadium outside the capital Nairobi where he called on Kenyans to change the cultures of corruption and discrimination that can hold society back. VOA East Africa Correspondent Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Europe’s Twin Crises Collide in Greece as Migrant Numbers Soar

Greece has replaced Italy as the main gateway for migrants into Europe, with more than 100,000 arrivals in the first six months of 2015. Many want to move further into Europe and escape Greece’s economic crisis, but they face widespread dangers on the journey overland through the Balkans. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Stink Intensifies as Lebanon’s Trash Crisis Continues

After the closure of a major rubbish dump a week ago, the streets of Beirut are filling up with trash. Having failed to draw up a plan B, politicians are struggling to deal with the problem. John Owens has more for VOA from Beirut.
Video

Video Paris Rolls Out Blueprint to Fight Climate Change

A U.N. climate conference in December aims to produce an ambitious agreement to fight heat-trapping greenhouse gases. But many local governments are not waiting, and have drafted their own climate action plans. That’s the case with Paris — which is getting special attention, since it’s hosting the climate summit. Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at the transformation of the French capital into an eco-city.
Video

Video Racially Diverse Spider-Man Takes Center Stage

Whether it’s in a comic book or on the big screen, fans have always known the man behind the Spider-Man mask as Peter Parker. But that is changing, at least in the comic book world. Marvel Comics announced that a character called Miles Morales will replace Peter Parker as Spider-Man in a new comic book series. He is half Latino, half African American, and he is quite popular among comic book fans. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports from Los Angeles.
Video

Video California Towns Welcome Special Olympics Athletes

Cities and towns in Southern California are greeting thousands of athletes who are arriving for Special Olympics, a competition for people with intellectual disabilities. The games will run from July 25th through August 2nd. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports from Pasadena, California, where athletes from Namibia, Singapore and Tanzania got a rousing welcome from local residents.
Video

Video Critics of Japan Defense Policy Focus on Okinawa

In Okinawa, many locals have long complained that Tokyo places an unfair burden on the tiny island by locating most of Japan's U.S. military bases there. As Japan's government moves toward strengthening and expanding the country's defense policies, opponents of those plans are joining local protesters in Okinawa, voicing concern about where the country is headed. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from Okinawa.
Video

Video IS Uses Chemical Weapons in Syrian Attack

Islamic State militants have added a new weapon in their arsenal of fear: chemical weapons. VOA Kurdish service reporter Zana Omer was on the scene within hours of a recent attack in Hasakah, Syria, and has details of the subsequent investigation, in this report narrated by Miguel Amaya.
Video

Video Historic Symbol Is Theme of Vibrant New Show

A new exhibit in Washington is paying tribute to the American flag with a wide and eclectic selection of artwork that uses the historic symbol as its central theme. VOA’s Julie Taboh was at the DC Chamber of Commerce for the show’s opening.
Video

Video Hoverbike Flying Toward Reality

Another long-standing dream of many technological inventors is quickly approaching reality: U.S.- and British-based firms are cooperating in the development of an individual flying platform they call a hoverbike. They say it may revolutionize the concept of flying, including in the U.S. military. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video As Japan Expands Defense Role, Protests Follow

The Japanese government is moving forward with a controversial security bill that would authorize the military to fight abroad for the first time since World War II. Leaders say it is critical to defend against rising threats from China and North Korea. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from Japan on the big changes ahead, and the opposition they are drawing.
Video

Video Replacing Poppies with Coffee in Myanmar

The remote mountains of Myanmar’s Shan state are home to the second-largest opium-producing region in the world. After a drop during the 2000s, production surged in the past eight years to feed an increasing demand for heroin in China. But farmers are now making less on the crop, and the U.N. is hoping many will make the switch to growing coffee. Daniel de Carteret reports for VOA from Taunggyi.

VOA Blogs