Raising awareness for Cholera in South Sudan

July 27, 2017

South Sudan is currently experiencing one the most severe, longest and widespread outbreaks of Cholera in recent history.

By: Nina de Vries

Kapoeta, South Sudan – 27 July 2017 – It started around 6pm one evening, shortly after supper. She had been warned about it for weeks and even though she tried to prevent it, she knew it might happen. Her five-year-old son Juma had been vomiting and had had severe diarrhea for several hours and if not treated properly she knew it could be life threatening.

UNICEF/ Kapoeta, South Sudan/2017/Nina de Vries                Regina Lotem with her son Juma.

And so Regina Lotem rushed little Juma to the cholera treatment centre (CTC) in her town of Na Pot Pot.

“When I thought my child was going to die I wanted to die. I was so scared,” says Regina holding little Juma close to her.

It was several grueling days of treatment for Juma and little sleep for Regina who stayed with him as much as she could. Juma managed to recover, but he was one of the lucky ones.

The cholera outbreak in South Sudan started in June 2016. A total of 17,242 cases have been reported and 320 deaths. In 2017 alone there were 13,880 cases along with 243 deaths. Children and young adults under 30 years are the most affected. The outbreak hit Regina’s village and the Greater Kapoeta in May this year with over 4,042 cases reported as of 21 July 2017.

Several organizations are working to stop the outbreak. The overall cholera response is mainly funded by the Department for International Development (DFID) and the United States Agency of International Development (USAID). And working with partners, UNICEF provides the training and operational support for what is known as social mobilization. This is where trained staff go to communities to educate people about prevention and treatment of cholera.

Regina says because of social mobilization she was aware of what cholera was and knew about some ways of prevention. She says had she not known about the disease beforehand she may have not acted so quickly to get her son to a CTC.

UNICEF also is supporting the CTC in Na Pot Pot with lifesaving supplies such as drugs, along with infection control materials like gloves, soap and chlorine. Nurse Tom Omuut, who runs the CTC says there has been about 1,500 cases since the outbreak in May.

UNICEF/ Kapoeta, South Sudan/2017/Nina de Vries                  Regina Lotem with her son Juma.

But with the impact of social mobilization there’s been a decrease in cases. Nurse Omuut says it’s because patients now have an understanding of how to recognize cholera and they bring patients in early enough to get proper treatment. In most rural communities, people often take sick people to traditional healers. Throughout their stay at the CTC, cholera education is reinforced. If patients are young children or infants, their mothers can sit in on the education talks.

However, new cases are still being reported in other parts of Kapoeta.

Marine Mosier is an Emergency Specialist with UNICEF, who is working in Kapoeta on the cholera response. She says the key is to make sure health promotion and social mobilization are continued. The challenge will be the sustainability of these interventions after the emergency response phase is over.

“So, it’s a long process, we cannot keep the emergency WASH (water, hygiene and sanitation) partners that we bring at beginning to scale up response, but we’ll continue to work with national partners to continue health promotion and social mobilization,” says Mosier.

A massive cholera immunization campaign took place at the end of July, with support from UNICEF, the World Health Organization and other partners. More than 500,000 doses of oral cholera vaccine were secured and two doses of the vaccine will protect a person for up to a year.

As for Regina Lotem, she says she’s hopeful the cholera cases will stay down in her community. She is doing her part by telling friends and family about cholera prevention. Every day she makes sure that she washes utensils properly and takes other preventative measures, so that none of her children will have to go through the experience of catching cholera again.