South Sudan's Ministry of Health said test results Thursday confirmed at least six deaths from cholera outbreaks in three areas of the country. More than 30 suspected cases have been reported in the capital, Juba, alone.
Outbreaks were confirmed in Juba, Terekeka state and Duk Island in Jonglei state. As of Wednesday, the nationwide total of cholera cases was 141, according to UNICEF.
Minister of Health Riak Gai Kok confirmed the cholera outbreaks on Thursday.
"Up to the day before yesterday, we were making some re-agents that could confirm with certainty that this is cholera, but today it has been confirmed that this is a cholera outbreak. It is no longer a suspected cholera."
Aid agency health officials this week have been providing patients with medical supplies and clean water, and instructing others on how to recognize the symptoms of cholera.
Preventing an outbreak
UNICEF said the most efficient way to fight cholera is to move quickly to prevent the disease from becoming an outbreak. Health workers are providing intravenous drips to rehydrate patients, because one of the main symptoms of cholera is dehydration.
The U.N. children's agency said three triage tents have been set up in the capital to treat suspected cholera patients. They also are distributing chlorine at community hand-washing stations. UNICEF said five oral hydration units also were set up where people can get safe drinking water.
Gai said the work to contain the outbreak is complicated and requires aid agencies and government officials to work closely together.
"So we are working on four areas. ... We have intensified the surveillance activity across the country and with emphasis on the three states," he said. "And then also we have extended the laboratory capacity of our public health laboratory."
Gai said he is optimistic that South Sudan will quickly get the outbreak under control.
Last year, the World Health Organization reported more than 1,500 cases of cholera in South Sudan. The outbreak was declared in June and continued through early November. At least 46 people died in that outbreak.
In the past, government officials have been slow to beat back outbreaks of cholera. Gai said the government of South Sudan must develop more infrastructure to ensure safe sanitation.
"We are optimistic that we are going to control and contain this outbreak, learning from our past experiences, because the country has experienced two outbreaks in the previous years," he said. "So we could say that we have accumulated experience and expertise in containing and managing this outbreak of cholera."
Gai said educating citizens about cholera is key to preventing more deaths.
"The other area is case management like the treatment of patients and is being undertaken by some NGOs like MSF in collaboration with Juba Teaching Hospital," he added. "This morning, we took the decision of putting another treatment center west of the city in an area called Gurey [in Jebel suburb of Juba], so we have about two treatment centers in Juba."
Daily water supplies are being given to Internally Displaced Persons after the water is treated with chlorine at the U.N. Protection of Civilians site in Juba.
UNICEF said providing safe drinking water and sanitation are the most effective ways to curb the spread of the deadly disease.