An area rife with conflict and large refugee populations, the Lake Chad region is one especially vulnerable to diseases. The most recent concern is the hepatitis E outbreak in Chad and Niger, which has been declared a stage one emergency by the WHO.
Hepatitis E is caused most often by exposure to fecal-infected water or undercooked meat and thus is prevalent in areas with poor water sanitation resources. Symptoms include a mild fever, reduced appetite and occasional vomiting. As the virus progresses, this becomes jaundice, dark liver, pale stools and sensitivity of the liver. In rare cases, acute liver failure is possible and often leads to death. Though the virus is often overlooked for the better-known hepatitis A, B and C, it is responsible for over 20 million infections and 40,000 deaths worldwide every year
In terms of treatment, infections typically do not require hospitalization, as the symptoms resolve by themselves after four to six weeks. However, in cases where liver failure occurs, hospitalization is required immediately. People with immunodeficiencies and pregnant women are especially at risk, and hospitalization is recommended for these populations.
In Am Timan, Chad, nearly 700 unique cases and 11 deaths occurred between September 2016 and January 2017. Since then, 70 cases have been reported each week. In the Diffa region of Niger, over 1,100 cases and 34 deaths were reported by the end of June. Additional cases have been reported in the large at-risk refugee population. In both countries, the WHO has declared the outbreak an emergency and is working alongside the Minister of Health to identify the epicenter.
The WHO’s investigations into the root of the hepatitis E outbreak in Chad and Niger are the first and most important step in keeping the people of the Lake Chad region safe, but more must be done in the meantime to ensure the health and safety of hundreds of thousands of at-risk people. The organization Medicins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) has worked hard to treat the proliferation of cases, but as the epidemic spreads from the city of Am Timan to the surrounding region of Salamat, more needs to be done.
Medicins Sans Frontieres has called for help in water sanitization, but the response was minimal. Due to this, the medical organization has taken it upon themselves to chlorinate 72 water stations in the city. In Diffa, it has treated 27,900 gallons of water and provided sanitation supplies to nearly 17,000 families. In order to curb the Hepatitis E outbreak in Chad and Niger, the WHO and Medicins Sans Frontieres need help. Their good work has mitigated the original outbreak, but money, supplies and volunteers are still needed to create the infrastructure to ensure such an outbreak is prevented in the future.
– Connor S. Keowen