Sudan meningitis outbreak kills 1,000

Updated: 2007-01-21 21:44

JUBA, Sudan - At least 1,000 people have died in one week in south Sudan's Warap state from meningitis and another unknown disease, state governor Anthony Bol Madut said in a statement sent to Reuters on Sunday.

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Emerging from Africa's longest civil war, south Sudan's infrastructure is almost non-existent and outbreaks of disease are frequent. A cholera outbreak last year killed 147 people.

"There is an outbreak of meningitis and (an) unknown disease spreading fast throughout the state and there is fear it may affect other neighbouring states," Madut's statement said.

He said the symptoms of the second disease were similar to yellow fever, but the patient died quickly. He appealed for medical experts to come to diagnose the disease and help stop the spread of the outbreak.

"Up to this time the death toll is over 1,000 this week alone," the statement said. "As I am writing this press release, I am expecting other death reports sooner or later."

Africa's "meningitis belt" stretches from Senegal to Ethiopia through some of the world's poorest and most war-scarred places, including Sudan. It accounts for more than half the cases of the disease worldwide each year.

Meningitis is an infection of the thin lining that surrounds the brain and spinal cord. It can cause complications including brain damage and deafness. About 5 percent to 10 percent of patients die from the illness, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Hundreds of thousands of southern Sudanese returning home after a January 2005 peace deal with the government in Khartoum are especially at risk because they live in crowded camps where infectious diseases like meningitis thrive.

Warap is one of the poorest states in the south, on the border between north and south Sudan.

WHO officials were not immediately available to comment on the outbreak.

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