An outbreak of hepatitis E in the Diffa region of Niger highlights the water shortages and poor sanitation experienced by displaced people in the region, according to Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), while calling for authorities and aid organisations to step up their response.
Niger’s Ministry of Health declared an epidemic of hepatitis E in the Diffa region, where 25 people have died among the 86 cases recorded since the beginning of April.
Public Health Minister Idi Illassou Mainassara said Thursday 20th April 2017 that authorities have blocked roads leading into the infected area and are assisting the sick. He says the situation is now under control but advised the population to be vigilant and to report to the health center for free treatment if they have symptoms.
MSF Press Release on 26 April 2017 says since December 2016, 135 cases of jaundice have been detected in Diffa, adding that Jaundice, which causes a yellowing of the skin and eyes, is one of the most common symptoms of hepatitis E. Many of these cases were pregnant women admitted to the main mother and child health centre in Diffa town, where MSF works alongside the Ministry of Health. 25 of them subsequently died due to acute liver failure.
25 of the pregnant women subsequently died due to acute liver failure.
Hepatitis E was finally confirmed by laboratory analysis in mid-April and the outbreak was declared by the Nigerien authorities last week. The disease is caused by the hepatitis E virus (HEV) and can lead to liver failure and death, with pregnant women particularly at risk. There is no specific treatment for the disease, which spreads mainly through contaminated water.
“Water and sanitation activities in Diffa are clearly insufficient to meet people’s needs, as we’ve been warning for months,” says Elmounzer Ag Jiddou, MSF’s head of mission in Niger. “MSF is calling on the authorities and all humanitarian organisations working in Diffa to rapidly and significantly increase their response and ensure an adequate water supply and sanitation conditions.”
Some 240,000 displaced people and refugees are sheltering in the Diffa region, according to official figures.
MSF says these people are particularly vulnerable after years suffering the consequences of the conflict between Boko Haram and the armies of the wider region.