KHARTOUM — A rare parasitic disease has killed 260 people in southern Sudan in the past year, a figure that is threatening to double in the coming months, the World Health Organisation said on Thursday.
“Since September last year, 260 people died of kala azar in southern Sudan, most of them children who suffer from malnutrition,” said Abdinasir Abubakar, head of the WHO in southern Sudan.
Kala azar, or visceral leishmaniasis, is a rare tropical disease contracted by the bite of a sand fly, endemic in some parts of southern Sudan.
Last week, the aid agency Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) warned that southern Sudan faced a “serious outbreak” of the tropical disease, especially in the remote states of Jonglei and Upper Nile.
“The most affected areas are (still) Jonglei and Upper Nile, particularly at Ayoka and Old Fangak (Jonglei) where more than half the cases are concentrated,” said the WHO official.
More than 9,000 cases have been identified since September 2009, and that could represent the tip of the iceberg, the authorities say.
“We believe that the number of cases will double over the next five months,” said Abubakar.
Visceral leishmaniasis, which attacks the immune system, usually manifests itself in patients with fever, weight loss and an enlarged spleen and liver.
About 500,000 cases are diagnosed each year, more than 90 percent of which are found in India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sudan, and Brazil, according to the WHO.