South Sudan is a country in North Africa, bordering the Central African Republic, Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. According to the World Bank, the world’s youngest country is experiencing a humanitarian crisis and two-thirds of the 11.4 million population is in need of humanitarian assistance. Of note, the World Health Organization states the average life expectancy is only 57 years of age. The rate of maternal deaths is 789 per 100,000 live births, 37.9 for neonatal deaths and 90.7 per 1,000 live births for children under 5. Communicable diseases are the leading cause of death, with malaria, diarrhea and pneumonia being the biggest killers of children under 5. Below are the deadliest diseases in South Sudan.
The 5 Deadliest Diseases Impacting South Sudan
- Pneumonia. In 2019, UNICEF reported that one child dies every hour from pneumonia, leading to 7,640 deaths of children under 5. In 2018, 20% of deaths among children under 5 were caused by pneumonia. The disease causes suffocation by the lungs filling with fluids, and is caused by infection from bacteria, viruses or fungi. In places with malnutrition, inequality, high levels of air pollution and unsafe water, pneumonia is likely to be found. It can be avoided by vaccines, having safe water to drink, handwashing and treatment of antibiotics.
- Malaria. According to Malaria Consortium South Sudan, “approximately 95% of South Sudan is endemic of malaria, with high transmission in the country throughout the year.” This translates to 2.3 million people who are at risk of malaria nationwide. Of note, 50 to 70% of all health facility visits and hospital admissions are caused by malaria. Its symptoms appear up to two weeks later, which include having a fever, headache and chills before progressing. The disease is caused by parasites and mosquitoes through bites but can be treated and prevented by vaccines, chemotherapy and vector control.
- HIV/AIDS. UNAIDS states that 2.5% of 15 to 49-year-olds have HIV in South Sudan as of 2020. One in four people is knowledgeable about their HIV status, whereas only 18% of people are being treated. UNAIDS has a 90-90-90 target of supporting people with HIV, and over five years has trained 69 peer educators and navigators, given out over six million male and female condoms, and over 500,000 water-based lubricants, and has diagnosed and treated 1,271 HIV cases after thousands of gender-based screenings as of 2021. HIV could lead to AIDS if left untreated, and is transmitted by bodily fluids, childbirth and using unsafe or shared needles. There’s currently no cure, but it can be treated by antiretroviral drugs and therapy.
- Cholera. In 2014, South Sudan’s capital city of Juba had an outbreak of cholera that hit multiple counties. There were 586 confirmed cases with 22 total deaths. The Ministry of Health created the Cholera Response Task Force to “strengthen the coordination of the outbreak response and support the emergency response task forces in all 10 States.” Cholera is caused by unclean water in unsafe sanitation areas where bacteria cause acute watery diarrhea. It can be treated by oral rehydration solution and prevented by oral cholera vaccines. Without treatment, cholera can lead to death within hours.
- Hepatitis E. This disease impacting South Sudan has been on the rise since 2014, with cases increasing from 564 in 2020 to 1,143 in 2021 with five deaths. Males aged 15 to 44 years had the most cases, then male children ages one through four, and lastly, females aged 15 to 44 were also reported to have the greatest number of cases. Hepatitis E is spread through fecal-oral contact that progresses into liver disease. Internally displaced-people camps and pregnant women are most at risk in South Sudan.
To combat the deadliest diseases in South Sudan, the Ministry of Health created a five-tier plan called the “National Health Policy,” running from 2016 to 2026. The first tier reduces maternal and child death rates by introducing more technical equipment and professional staff members. The second tier is to prevent all communicable, non-communicable and tropical diseases. The third tier improves emergency management, surveillance and recovery. The fourth tier supports specific-health needs. Finally, the fifth tier reduces environmental factors and promotes awareness of social health factors.
– Deanna Barratt