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"Diseases that are routine here are ones we only read about in textbooks during medical school."
- Dr. David Reed, MD



South Sudan currently suffers from a variety of diseases and conditions largely unheard of in the developed world. Life expectancy at birth is just 56 for men and 59 for women. The John Dau Foundation (JDF) works every day to treat and ultimately prevent and eradicate these diseases and conditions, the most prominent of which are outlined below.


Malnutrition is a condition where the body has an imbalance or lack of the nutrients it needs to function properly. In South Sudan (as in most of the underdeveloped world), this is most commonly caused by undernutrition.

From May to August (the months before the fall harvest but after the previous year's food has run out), malnutrition is chronic. Moreover, lack of access to clean water and a nearly total absence of primary healthcare puts children at great risk of malnutrition. 45 percent of children in Sudan suffer from physical stunting as a result of malnutrition. Malnutrition causes 60 percent of deaths in children under the age of five.

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Infant, Child and Maternal Mortality

According to PSI, the mortality rate for infants in South Sudan is 102 per 1,000 live births; the under-five child mortality rate is 135 per 1,000.

According to Doctors Without Borders and a Ministry of Health survey, maternal mortality in South Sudan is the highest in the world – with 2,053 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births, or 1 out of every 50 births. By comparison, in the United States, the rate is 8 per 100,000.


malariaCholera is an acute, diarrheal illness caused by infection of the intestine with bacteria. In people with severe cholera, rapid loss of body fluids leads to dehydration and shock. Without treatment, death can occur within hours.

A person can get cholera by drinking water or eating food contaminated with cholera bacterium. The disease can spread rapidly in areas where there is inadequate treatment of sewage and drinking water. While cholera is not common in South Sudan, an outbreak can spread quickly and infect thousands of people, meaning the clinic must constantly test for the bacteria.

Eye Diseases

Blindness is a common problem in the region and is often caused by river blindness, trachoma and cataracts. Tens of thousands are unable to see, mostly because of preventable infections left untreated during previous conflicts.

eyeNight blindness is a common disease in young children. It is most often caused by a Vitamin A deficiency, which the JDF combats through an extensive Vitamin A supplement campaign. Night blindness can result in increased susceptibility to measles, and if left untreated, can cause permanent blindness.

A cataract is a clouding of the lens in the eye which prevents light from passing through and causes blurred vision. The upward trend in cataract cases in South Sudan can be ascribed to high temperature, malnutrition, high blood pressure, diabetes and other infections. Around 50 percent of blindness in Sub-Saharan Africa is due to cataracts.

Trachoma is an infectious disease of the eye caused by the bacterium Chlamydia trachomatis. Children that are infected may not have symptoms until adulthood. The bacteria can be spread easily from an infected person's hands or clothing – and can even be carried by flies that come in contact with fluids from the eyes or nose of an infected individual. This chronic eye infection can result in scarring of the eyelids and damage to the eyeball, resulting in blindness if left untreated. Several million people are currently living with trachoma in South Sudan. 

Guinea-Worm Disease

South Sudan is one of the four remaining countries in the world to which Guinea-worm disease is still endemic, though dramatic progress is being made in the fight against the disease. People become infected from drinking standing water which contains a tiny water flea carrying the even smaller larvae of the Guinea worm. Once inside the human body, the larvae mature, growing as long as three feet. After about a year, the worm emerges through a painful blister in the skin, causing long-term suffering and disability. 

Only six cases were seen in South Sudan in 2016, which is a reduction of about 94 percent since 2014 and 99.9 percent since 2006. Much work still has to be done to make sure the country has the infrastructure and preparedness to combat another outbreak.


malariaMalaria is a mosquito-borne disease that most often infects children, and results most commonly in fever, headaches and vomiting. The WHO classifies malaria cases as "severe" and "uncomplicated"; uncomplicated malaria is fairly easy to treat, while severe malaria can result in comas, yellow skin, seizures and death within days or even hours of diagnosis.

The spread of malaria can be curbed via mosquito repellent, insect nets and draining standing water. With the large amounts of standing water in South Sudan and lack of malaria control programs, malaria is widespread among the population.


South Sudan is seeing a major increase in the prevalence of HIV/AIDS, and international health organizations warn that if the disease is not addressed properly, an epidemic may be in South Sudan's future. Around 3 percent of adults in South Sudan are currently HIV-positive.


Tuberculosis is a respiratory infection which causes cough containing blood, fever and weight loss. Many cases show no symptoms, but if symptoms are developed and left untreated, tuberculosis can result in death. The disease is spread from person to person through the air. Those with HIV/AIDS are especially susceptible. According to the WHO, the prevalence of active tuberculosis in South Sudan is 140 per 100,000 individuals. It can be treated via vaccine and a complex antibiotic regimen.


hivMeningitis is inflammation of the thin tissue that surrounds the brain and spinal cord. The most common form is viral meningitis, which is caused when the virus enters the body through the nose or mouth and then travels to the brain. Dust storms (which are common during the January-to-April dry season) lead to an increase in respiratory infections and spread meningitis because the bacteria attach to dust particles which are breathed in.

Early treatment can help prevent serious problems and fatalities from the disease. Vaccines can prevent some of the forms of bacterial infections that cause meningitis.


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