The World Health Organisation (WHO) has said that at least nine people have died in a cholera outbreak in war-torn South Sudan where five months of civil war has left thousands homeless and disrupted food supplies and health services.
WHO spokesman Tarik Jasarevic announced the deaths in the outbreak on Monday. An estimated 138 cases of the disease, which can kill in days if not treated, had been registered so far in and around the capital city of Juba.
"The epidemic is intensifying and more cases are expected," Jasarevic told AFP news agency. He added that the UN health agency and other aid organisations were rushing supplies to the affected region.
UNICEF has supplied tents, hygiene equipment, clean water and oral rehydration solutions for a treatment centre, Reuters news agency reported.
On Monday the United States authorised the use of up to $50 million from its emergency refugee fund to help with urgent humanitarian needs resulting from fighting in South Sudan, the White House said on Monday.
The $50 million will support the UN High Commission for Refugees and its partners to help more than 300,000 refugees who have crossed into Ethiopia, Kenya, Sudan and Uganda, as well as internally displaced people, the statement said.
At least 1.3 million South Sudanese people have been forced from their homes due to five months of fighting between government troops and rebel forces.
|Cholera outbreak kills two in South Sudan [May 18, 2014]
More than 79,000 civilians are sheltering in hugely overcrowded United Nations peacekeeping bases, including over 32,000 civilians crammed into UN camps in the capital alone.
Heavy rains are also sweeping the impoverished country, hampering aid efforts and potentially exacerbating the spread of the disease.
Children are at particular risk from cholera. The UN children's agency UNICEF said 80,000 people in South Sudan had been fully vaccinated against cholera.
"The severity of the cholera outbreak is just one manifestation of a country failing its children," said Jonathan Veitch, who steers South Sudan aid operations for UNICEF.
"Cholera puts even more strain on the most vulnerable, whose health is already compromised by a nutritional crisis," he said in a statement.
Cholera is an extremely virulent disease of the small intestine, often accompanied by severe nausea and diarrhoea. It can kill within hours if left untreated, but up to 80 percent of cases can be successfully treated with oral rehydration salts, the WHO says.