The outbreak of hepatitis E in South Sudan is being hindered by flooding, making containment efforts more difficult.

Estimated read time 3 min read

Efforts to address a hepatitis E epidemic in South Sudan are being hindered by flooding, which has cut off communities and transformed villages into isolated pockets.

A groundbreaking effort to administer vaccinations has commenced in order to safeguard individuals from a series of incidents, although the full extent of the disease outbreak remains uncertain.

Healthcare professionals from the organization Doctors Without Borders (MSF) must endure journeys lasting eight hours by boat in order to administer vaccines to certain villages in Fangak county, located in the northern region of South Sudan.

In the last nine months, MSF reported 21 fatalities and provided medical care to over 500 individuals who contracted hepatitis E. Unfortunately, a large portion of the population in the area lacks access to healthcare.

This is the initial attempt at a vaccination drive during the active phase of a hepatitis E epidemic, which also involves the challenge of delivering the vaccines from their production site in China.

The virus Hepatitis E is transmitted through unclean water and cannot be cured. It can be life-threatening for pregnant women. While it is not common in developed countries, it affects over 20 million people annually in underdeveloped nations with inadequate sanitation.

A boat with MSF flags is loaded with white cardboard boxes containing vaccines.

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MSF aims to assist 12,000 females between the ages of 16 and 45 by June, however, they are faced with significant obstacles.

Mamman Mustapha, the head of mission for MSF in South Sudan, stated that Fangak county is located in a very isolated region in the northern part of the country. The area is covered in the Sudd marshes, a large wetland with small communities. The people living there have minimal access to even the most basic healthcare services.

“Transporting our routine childhood vaccinations to Old Fangak poses a difficulty. The only means of reaching the hospital is by boat through the Nile River or by air.”

The constant occurrence of floods in Fangak, located in Jonglei state, has resulted in a large portion of the rural areas being submerged in water. This has also worsened the prevalence of malaria due to the thriving mosquito population in the stagnant flood waters.

The destruction of crops and livestock has also played a role in the malnutrition of children, with the highest rates recorded in Jonglei, South Sudan in 2023 at 130,000 cases.

According to Mustapha, the true extent of the hepatitis E issue in Fangak, which results in the deaths of 70,000 individuals, primarily women, annually, remains unknown.

Mustapha stated that 21 individuals have died from hepatitis E during the ongoing outbreak, but this number reflects only those who were able to receive medical care at a hospital. It is probable that a significant number of people have died at home without the opportunity to seek treatment.

The MSF stated that the expensive price of vaccines is preventing widespread vaccination.

The World Health Organization (WHO) endorsed the hepatitis E vaccine in 2015, however, it has only been administered once prior, at the Bentiu displacement camp in South Sudan in 2022.


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