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

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

Efforts to address a hepatitis E epidemic in South Sudan are being hindered by ongoing floods, which have 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 occurrences, however, the full extent of the disease outbreak remains uncertain.

Medical personnel from the organization Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) must endure lengthy eight-hour boat journeys in order to administer vaccines to various villages in Fangak county, located in the northern region of South Sudan.

In the last nine months, MSF has reported 21 fatalities and provided medical care to over 500 individuals diagnosed with hepatitis E. However, the majority of people in the area do not have access to healthcare.

This is the initial attempt at a vaccination initiative during the critical phase of a hepatitis E epidemic, including the difficulty of transporting the vaccines from their production site in China.

Hepatitis E is transmitted through unclean water and cannot be cured. It can be deadly for pregnant women. While it is uncommon in developed countries, it affects over 20 million individuals annually in impoverished nations with inadequate sanitation.

A boat with MSF flags is loaded with white cardboard boxes containing vaccines.View image in fullscreen

MSF aims to provide aid to 12,000 women between the ages of 16 and 45 by June, but is encountering significant obstacles.

Mamman Mustapha, MSF’s leader in South Sudan, stated that Fangak county is located in a very isolated region in the north, specifically on the Sudd marshes. This area is filled with wetlands and small villages, where people have very limited access to basic healthcare services.

“Transporting our routine childhood vaccinations to Old Fangak presents difficulties. The only options for reaching the hospital are via boat on the Nile River or by air.”

Fangak, located in Jonglei state, has experienced multiple instances of flooding, causing significant portions of the surrounding area to be submerged. This recurring flooding has also contributed to higher rates of malaria, as the standing water creates a favorable environment for mosquitoes.

The destruction of crops and livestock has added to the problem of child malnutrition, which was more prevalent in Jonglei than any other region of South Sudan, with a total of 130,000 cases reported in 2023.

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

According to Mustapha, it is confirmed that 21 individuals have succumbed to hepatitis E in the ongoing outbreak. However, this number only accounts for those who were able to make it to the hospital. It is highly probable that numerous others have died at home without having the opportunity to seek treatment.

The organization MSF stated that the expensive prices of vaccines are preventing widespread vaccinations.

In 2015, the World Health Organization (WHO) recommended the use of the hepatitis E vaccine. However, it has only been administered once before, in the Bentiu displacement camp in South Sudan in 2022.