SUDAN: Southern authorities stockpile meningitis drugs

Friday, April 11, 2008

Southern Sudan has stocked up on meningitis drugs in the capital Juba and various states in a bid to minimise the impact of a possible outbreak during the dry season, a senior official said.

"We are better prepared than we were last year when we had an outbreak of meningitis and cholera," Monywiir Arop, under-secretary in the Southern Sudan health ministry, said. "We have developed a preparedness plan for the year."

Southern Sudan reported 12,000 meningitis cases in 2007, ranking second to Burkina Faso in numbers of cases out of 21 African countries in the so-called meningitis belt.

The high infection levels, Arop said, had compelled the health ministry, the UN World Health Organization (WHO), the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and other organisations to stockpile  500,000 million vaccines in the event of an outbreak.

"The possibility of many households in Juba getting meningitis is very high because of unhygienic conditions, congestion and many returnees coming back to  South Sudan," Arop told IRIN.

Abdul Rahman Wurie, a WHO early warning epidemiologist, said Southern Sudan was vulnerable to various diseases because of the impact of climate change and flooding, the absence of an adequate health infrastructure, including trained personnel, and the return of large numbers of displaced people.
Dust storms, which are common during the January to April dry season, for example, lead to an increase in respiratory infections and help spread meningitis because the bacteria attach to dust particles.

The meningitis belt, according to WHO, stretches from Senegal in the west to Ethiopia in the east, with an estimated population of 300 million people. Meningitis epidemics occur in cycles. The disease, a potentially deadly infection of the thin lining that surrounds the brain and the spinal cord, can kill unless quickly treated although it can be controlled through vaccination.

"The region is prone to epidemic outbreaks ... last week, we experienced cholera in Yei [with] 194 cases, but that is now under control," Wurie said.

WHO, he added, had posted more epidemiologists to monitor Southern Sudan and was conducting training on enhanced meningitis surveillance; while the government of Southern Sudan had adopted an integrated disease surveillance and response strategy.

Upsurge in malaria

Apart from meningitis and cholera, the region also suffers from malaria. Last year, Wurie said, five states that were hit by raging floods, especially Upper Nile State, experienced an upsurge in malaria infection. Rift Valley fever was also identified in Upper Nile State.

To contain malaria, the government and its partners have procured 1.6 million mosquito nets for distribution this month in Jonglei, Unity, Western Equatorial, Upper Nile and Northern Bhar Al Ghazal states.

"Given the meagre resources, we can only manage to provide nets to the vulnerable population first - lactating mothers and their children," Arop said.

Southern Sudan emerged from more than two decades of conflict after the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement with the north in January 2005.

The war devastated the region, displacing an estimated four million southerners. Since the accord, about two million southerners have returned home from displaced camps in other parts of Sudan or from refugee camps in neighbouring countries.

Source: IRIN