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South Sudan Officials Warn Spread of Hepatitis B

This photo taken on June 15, 2012, at the Jamam refugee camp, shows mothers queueing at a Medecin Sans Frontiere (MSF) field hospital in South Sudan's Upper Nile state.
Health officials in Aweil’s civil hospital in Northern Bahr El Ghazal state say they are treating a growing number of patients with Hepatitis B. They say if residents are not careful, the disease could rapidly spread throughout the region.

Aweil Civil Hospital’s Acting Director, Dr. Wol Wol Aken said they have been diagnosing 5 to 10 patients each month with Hepatitis B. He worries that residents are for the most part uneducated about the virus and could spread it unknowingly. Hepatitis B affects the liver and can cause liver cancer, even death.

It is spread through bodily fluids, often through sexual intercourse. But Dr. Aken warned that contact with blood on sharp objects, such as needles, can also transmit the disease. He said some of the first signs of Hepatitis B are vomiting, fever, and constipation.

Since Hepatitis B is highly contagious, Dr. Aken fears the hospital will not be able to contain the spread of the virus, since it is desperately short on supplies.

“There is a vaccine but the vaccine is expensive and not available here in Aweil state,” he said.

Dr. Aken said they don’t normally see Hepatitis B IN Aweil or in the rest of the Bahr el Ghazal region. He said it is more commonly seen in the Equatoria region.

The National Deputy Health Minister Yatta Lori said with Hepatitis B showing up in other areas like Aweil, health officials are scrambling to get the vaccine out to hospitals across the country.

“Herbatatis C is not very common in South Sudan. What is killing people most is Herbatatis B. Herbatatis B has got a vaccine which up to now I understand is only in Juba Complex. We in the Ministry of Health are trying our level best to get Hepatitis B vaccines, particularly for people who work in hospitalsm,” Yatta said.

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