A cholera outbreak is threatening South Sudan’s children in the latest blow to a country already teetering on the brink of all-out crisis amid incessant fighting and mass displacement, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has reported.
According to the UN agency, eighteen people, including two children under the age of five, have already died from the disease with the first case reported on 27 May at the Protection of Civilians (PoC) site in Juba, the young nation’s capital. Since then, 170 suspected cases have been reported inside the site and in villages across Central Equatoria State.
“Up to 5,000 children under five are at risk of dying from cholera unless urgent action is taken to contain this threat,” UNICEF Representative in South Sudan, Jonathan Veitch, warned in a press release issued yesterday.
South Sudan’s ongoing conflict began in December 2013 and has been marked by brutal violence against civilians and deepening suffering across the country. Some 120,000 people are sheltered in UN compounds there while United Nations estimates that the number of people in need for 2015 will include an anticipated 1.95 million internally displaced persons and a projected 293,000 refugees.
As the fighting has worsened and pushed increasing numbers of people out of their homes and into overcrowded camps and settlements, often without access to clean water and in poor hygiene conditions, the risk of disease and epidemics has only grown. A cholera outbreak in May 2014 already claimed 167 lives before it was brought under control by the Government and UN partners.
Currently, UNICEF is engaged in a series of urgent interventions aimed at increasing awareness on how to prevent, detect and treat cholera while social mobilizers are conducting a door-to-door campaign to provide lifesaving information to vulnerable communities. In order to maintain these efforts, the agency is appealing for $4.6 million to fund an emergency cholera response for the next six months.
“It is deplorable that such an easily preventable disease could destroy so many young lives,” Mr. Veitch continued. “UNICEF is working with communities and health facilities to prevent further loss of life but we are running out of funds to stop this.”