An outbreak of Hepatitis E has swept through refugee camps in the newly formed country of South Sudan. The wildfire of infections has resulted in 111 people dying and over 6,000 being infected since July.

Almost 70 percent of all the cases are in just one refugee camp in Yusuf Batil camp which houses 37,229 people.

"The majority of refugees in camps where the disease is most widespread are from Blue Nile state, an isolated rural area in Sudan where there are few established toilet facilities and uncontaminated water is not readily available," said UNHCR (The UN Refugee Agency) spokesperson Adrian Edwards.

"UNHCR believes the growth in the population due to the refugee influx from Blue Nile could be one of the factors in the rapid spread of the disease," he told reporters in Geneva.

The risk of spreading the disease can be mitigated by washing hands with soap after using the toilet, drinking clean water and avoiding uncooked foods, if other people in the area are ill. There is no treatment and he World health Organization has not approved a vaccine for the disease as of yet.

 

Hepatitis
Hepatitis E is endemic in many areas of the world. Why is it taking so long for a vaccine to be approved outside China? (Photo: CDC website)

In December 2011, the Chinese State Food and Drug Administration approved a vaccine that was developed in China. The FDA and other world bodies have yet to approve of the vaccine in their countries.

The UK drug maker Glaxo­SmithKline developed a Hepatitis E vaccine with the U.S. Army that made it through phase II clinical trials before being shelved. The vaccine was shelved because there was little commercial value in developing a vaccine to a disease that mostly affects those in the developing world.

A 2007 outbreak of the illness in Uganda infected more than 10,000 people and killed over 160.

If an existing vaccine is known to work and can prevent deaths why is it taking so long to get it to those in need?