MSF to aid actors: 'Step up' efforts against hepatitis E outbreak in Chad

A water market in Chad. Photo by: Carsten ten Brink / CC BY-NC-ND

Médecins Sans Frontières has just declared a hepatitis E outbreak in the southeastern region of Chad in hopes of rousing other humanitarian organizations to help contain the epidemic.

Since Sept. 2016, the international medical humanitarian group has treated 821 patients with acute jaundice — a typical symptom of hepatitis E — in Am Timan, in the Salamat region of Chad. Of this number, 68 patients were confirmed to have hepatitis E, while some 61 patients have been hospitalized and 11 died.

Four of those who died were pregnant women, three of whom tested positive for hepatitis E, according to a World Health Organization update issued in January.

MSF has deployed more than 600 staff to test for new cases, provide supportive treatment to patients and disinfect water areas in the city using chlorine. The humanitarian organization has also engaged in sensitization activities, explaining to communities the importance of proper handwashing with soap and using chlorinated water at designated water points around the city.

But with new cases averaging 60 per week, including some outside Am Timan, the organization said other aid agencies need to step up. More players are needed to help in water sanitation activities, said Rolland Kaya, MSF’s head of mission in Chad.

“As a medical organisation, it is not usually MSF’s job to intervene on a large scale in water chlorination activities, but with no other options to help stop the spread of the virus, we are obliged to fill this gap,” Kaya said in a statement. “Up to now, the few responses delivered by other actors have been minimal in terms of quantity, quality and timelines.”

MSF has been working in partnership with the Chadian Ministry of Health in identifying and treating new cases of hepatitis E in Am Timan, and is in close contact with WHO on the matter, Kaya told Devex.

But the health ministry has yet to publicly declare the situation an outbreak, he said.

“Water safety is the responsibility of Chadian authorities and while they have expressed an interest in ensuring proper water supplies, they need assistance from other actors in doing so. This is why we are calling on humanitarian actors in Chad to step in and support efforts to curtail cases of hepatitis E,” Kaya said.

The WHO country office in Chad has been helping the Ministry of Health to strengthen its surveillance outside Am Timan and said it, too, has been advocating for more players to step in and address water and sanitation, as well as the social mobilization needs in the region, according a Jan. 30 update on the disease situation.

Hepatitis E is an infectious disease transmitted to a person mainly through contaminated water, but there’s no current treatment available for those suffering from the disease. A vaccine to prevent hepatitis E was developed in China in 2011, but it has yet to be approved for use in other countries.

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About the author

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    Jenny Lei Ravelo

    Jenny Lei Ravelo is a Devex Senior Reporter based in Manila. She covers global health, with a particular focus on the World Health Organization, and other development and humanitarian aid trends in Asia Pacific. Prior to Devex, she wrote for ABS-CBN, one of the largest broadcasting networks in the Philippines, and was a copy editor for various international scientific journals. She received her journalism degree from the University of Santo Tomas.