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Mystery illness outbreak claims 97 lives as WHO sent to investigate 'dangerous' situation

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The illness has so far claimed the lives of 97 people in Fangak, Jonglei State, in the northern part of South Sudan. On Thursday, Fangak County Commissioner Biel Boutros Biel said an elderly woman’s death came as a result of an unidentified illness. South Sudan’s Ministry of Health has said that the disease has mainly affected the elderly and children under 14. It is also said that the symptoms of the mysterious illness include cough, diarrhoea, fever, headaches, joint pain, loss of appetite, body weakness, and chest pain.

WHO officials were deployed to the region to investigate the illness, but they reportedly left the area without revealing their findings to local officials.

South Sudan’s Ministry of Health also said that the Fangak region has recently been heavily impacted by extreme flooding.

This has ramped up the pressure on local health bodies placed by endemic diseases like Malaria and cholera.

Back in November, French humanitarian aid group Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), or Doctors Without Borders, warned that flooding in South Sudan was a “perfect storm for disease outbreaks”.

Over 200,000 people have reportedly fled their homes as a result of what has been called the worst flooding in the region in more than 60 years.

The UN has blamed the flooding on climate change.

MSF said people affected by the flooding were are at “higher risk of outbreaks and waterborne diseases such as acute watery diarrhea, cholera, and malaria.”

The WHO originally thought the mystery illness could be an outbreak of cholera, which is transmitted in contaminated water.

Like the mystery illness affecting South Sudan, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says cholera causes diarrhoea.

People with severe cholera can develop severe dehydration, which can lead to kidney failure.

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MSF emergency operations manager Will Turner said: “The dangerously slow and inadequate humanitarian response to this crisis is putting lives at risk.”

Mr Turner said conditions in a camp for those relocated by the flooding in Bentiu, just 75 miles from Fangak, were particularly poor.

He said: “For years, we have repeatedly warned about the dire conditions, yet other organizations and agencies responsible for the water and sanitation services in the camp have not sufficiently increased or adjusted their activities.

“This paralysis is resulting in horrific living conditions and huge health risks for the people living in Bentiu camp and across makeshift camps in Bentiu town.”

But a number of different NGOs have started to provide medical supplies and are in the process of installing mobile clinics to treat local patients in Fangak.



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