Hepatitis Outbreak Could Cause Maternal Deaths to Skyrocket in Sudan

UNITED NATIONS, New YorkOne day after an outbreak of Hepatitis E was confirmed in internal refugee camps in all three states in Sudans Darfur region, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) is calling for immediate action to avert an epidemic among displaced Sudanese, warning that pregnant women are especially vulnerable.

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

While Hepatitis E usually has a fatality rate of 1 percent to 4 percent, the virus is several times more lethal for pregnant women.

This strain of the disease can be fatal for up to 20 percent of pregnant women, and is particularly dangerous for those in their third trimesters, says Dr. Henia Dakkak of UNFPA, who just returned from a six-week mission to help upscale the Funds humanitarian operations in all three States of Darfur.

In one camp where the virus has been detected in Western Darfur, pregnant women account for six of the eight fatalities reported so far.

UNFPAs executive director, Thoraya Ahmed Obaid, says that the threat posed by the emergence of the virus underlines the need for greater donor support for all sectors of the humanitarian effort in Darfur, which senior United Nations officials have described as the worlds 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 anemia, says Obaid. But this outbreak highlights the urgency of greater international support for all sectors, from food to water and sanitation to health care.

To date, the United Nations has received just over half the funds it has requested from international donors for urgent humanitarian needs between now and December. UNFPA is asking donors for $3.14 million for support to pregnant and lactating women, and to help prevent and treat sexual violence.

Source: UNFPA

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