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Sudan: UN warns hepatitis outbreak could cause maternal deaths to skyrocket

Sudan: UN warns hepatitis outbreak could cause maternal deaths to skyrocket

UNFPA chief Thoraya Obaid
The United Nations population agency today called for immediate action to avert an epidemic of hepatitis E among people who have lost their homes in Sudan's Darfur region, a day after an outbreak of the disease was confirmed in camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in all three of Darfur's states.

The UN Population Fund (UNFPA) warned that pregnant women - who have accounted for six of the eight fatalities in one camp where the virus has been detected - were especially vulnerable to the disease, which usually has a fatality rate of 1 to 4 per cent.

According to the UN World Health Organization (WHO), a total of 625 HEV-related cases and 22 deaths have been documented in western Sudan. UNFPA and WHO both warned that the virus - usually transmitted through water contaminated with human waste - could spread quickly in Darfur, where hundreds of thousands of IDPs live in overcrowded camps with poor sanitation.

UNFPA Executive Director Thoraya Ahmed Obaid said the threat posed by the emergence of the virus underlined the need for greater donor support for all sectors of the humanitarian effort in Darfur, which senior UN officials have described as the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

"Food must remain a priority, of course, including nutritional supplements for pregnant and lactating women who have already been weakened by malnourishment and anaemia," Ms. Obaid said. "But this outbreak highlights the urgency of greater international support for all sectors, from food to water and sanitation to health care."