A deadly cholera outbreak is spreading through southern Sudan, highlighting the urgent need to improve sanitary conditions in the region. Hundreds of thousands in south Sudan are vulnerable to the disease due to poor living conditions. A year has passed since a peace agreement ended a civil war in Sudan, but much of the south remains undeveloped, without safe drinking water or sanitary living conditions.
Fifty two people are dead and another 2,029 have been infected with cholera in southern Sudan. The World Health Organization calls the outbreak serious, and says the U.N. is working around the clock to prevent the disease from spreading.
Cholera kills by causing dehydration, which is brought on by vomiting and diarrhea. Most of southern Sudan's infrastructure, including water and sewage systems, was destroyed during the nation's two decade civil war. Many in the region have to drink unclean water.
Dr. Guido Sabatinelli of the World Health Organization says the south is a breeding ground for infectious disease and called the outbreak severe.
"Juba and the entire south is underdeveloped and the basic sanitary conditions are extremely poor," said Guido Sabatinelli. "That is particularly dangerous where there are areas of human concentration like in Juba and other urban areas. So, the risk is for further spread, but there are efforts for containment and trying to potabilize the water so people can drink safe water. Safe water is a must in the south and this is particularly important during the rainy season when there is the possibility of the contamination of the water from the source."
Unclean water is not the only contributing factor. The population of south Sudan has mushroomed since the signing of a peace agreement between north and south Sudan one year ago. Southerners are returning home from east African nations such as Kenya and Uganda.
The movement across borders has led to an increase in infectious diseases including HIV/AIDS. Many families live in dirty, cramped conditions where cholera spreads quickly, and small rivers of human waste trickle through the streets where children play. Young people are particularly susceptible to the disease.
United Nations Children's Fund Representative Ben Parker told VOA by phone from Nairobi that he will not be surprised if the disease spreads into other parts of Sudan.
The outbreak began in the bustling trading town of Yei, where goods from East Africa are shipped northward to south Sudan's capital city of Juba.
Dr. Sabatinelli says the outbreak has been brought under control in Yei, but has spread to Juba, a town of approximately 250,000 people. The situation there is worsening, he said.
UNICEF and the World Health Organization have deployed additional staff to the region and are working to identify new cases as well as treating those who are already infected.