JUBA – As the World Health Organization (WHO) continues to investigate a mystery illness in South Sudan, the disease has claimed another victim.
Up until now, the illness has killed 97 people in Fangak, Jonglei State, in the northern part of South Sudan. On Thursday, Fangak County Commissioner Biel Boutros Biel told ABC News an elderly woman was the latest fatality arising from the unidentified sickness.
In a press release, the South Sudan Ministry of Health revealed that the illness seems to mainly affect the elderly and children under 14.
The Ministry of Health also said that the symptoms of the mysterious illness include cough, diarrhea, fever, headaches, joint pain, loss of appetite, body weakness, and chest pain.
WHO officials visited the region to investigate the illness, but Biel Boutros Biel told ABC News they had left the area without revealing their findings to local officials.
The Fangak region has recently been heavily affected by extreme flooding, which has raised the burden of local health bodies placed by endemic diseases like Malaria and cholera, the South Sudan Ministry of Health said.
In November, humanitarian aid group Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), or Doctors Without Borders, had warned that flooding in South Sudan was a “perfect storm for disease outbreaks.”
Newsweek previously reported that over 200,000 people had fled their homes as a result of the worst flooding in the region for 60 years. MSF said people affected were at “higher risk of outbreaks and waterborne diseases such as acute watery diarrhea, cholera, and malaria.”
Cholera is an acute diarrhoeal infection that can be caused by drinking infected water. Like the mystery illness affecting South Sudan, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says cholera causes profuse watery diarrhea.
ABC News reported that the WHO team, which had to travel to the area via helicopter due to the flooding, had tested samples from patients that returned negative for cholera.
MSF warned in its statement earlier this year that the global aid response to the flooding was inadequate. Speaking regarding conditions in a camp for those relocated by the flooding in Bentiu, just 75 miles from Fangak, MSF emergency operations manager Will Turner said: “The dangerously slow and inadequate humanitarian response to this crisis is putting lives at risk. The deplorable situation inside Bentiu displacement camp—formerly a UN Protection of Civilians site—is not a new phenomenon.
“For years, we have repeatedly warned about the dire conditions, yet other organizations and agencies responsible for the water and sanitation services in the camp have not sufficiently increased or adjusted their activities. This paralysis is resulting in horrific living conditions and huge health risks for the people living in Bentiu camp and across makeshift camps in Bentiu town.”
Newsweek has reached out to the World Health Organization for comment.