Instability in South Sudan undermines global efforts to eradicate dracunculiasis

Geneva, Switzerland
24 January 2014

Political instability began on 15 December 2013, forcing more than half a million people to flee their homes, and prompting the evacuation of United Nations staff and other international workers from many regions and areas of the country.

Many were sent to the capital Juba. Others were deployed to neighbouring countries such as Kenya and Uganda for a period of one week, particularly between 20–31 December 2013.

While many agencies have been bringing back their personnel, efforts have been hampered by internal security procedures. Some international organizations and their partners have been able to return many of their employees to manage humanitarian needs, but the overall situation remains unstable. WHO is working with other partners to support internally displaced persons, especially in the three states of Central Equatorial (Juba), Jonglei and Lakes.

Those affected by violence are housed in temporary shelters in crowded areas with no access to clean water and sanitation and in neighbouring countries. To prevent the spread of waterborne diseases, including guinea worm disease, clean drinking-water is an immediate and critical need.

The WHO dracunculiasis eradication team in South Sudan has been able to travel to some areas, particularly in the Lakes State, to conduct an assessment of internally displaced persons in Awerial county where more than 85 000 people have fled their homes, mostly from Jonglei State. Most of these people have taken shelter in the United Nations peacekeeping compounds in Bentiu, Bor, Juba and Malakal.

The most affected states are Jonglei (Bor town), Unity (Bentiu town), Central Equatoria (Juba town) and Lakes (Awerial county). Fortunately, there is relative calm in the rest of the states.

In order to prevent further spread of the disease to neighbouring countries, actions are being taken to intensify surveillance in the South Sudanese refugee camps as well as in areas across the borders of Ethiopia, Kenya, Sudan and Uganda.

WHO is also working with the Ministry of Health of all concerned countries including South Sudan and encouraging other partners working with these displaced people to promptly report any suspected case of dracunculiasis.

As of this week, fighting has continued in areas around the towns of Bentiu, Bor, Malakal and on the outskirts of Juba. However, dracunculiasis surveillance officers from the remaining states continue to conduct surveillance and submit weekly reports.

South Sudan has made remarkable progress in reducing the number of new dracunculiasis cases, from a total of 1028 in 2011 to 521 in 2012 and 113 (provisional) in 2013.

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