Cholera in Juba: "If the Clinic Wasn't There, I Don't Know What I Could Have Done"

Andreea Campeanu


Since South Sudan's Ministry of Health declared a cholera outbreak in Juba, the country’s capital, on May 15, 2014, more than 1,306 patients have been treated for the disease and 29 have died, according to a recent World Health Organization report.

Among those who were successfully treated were the children of Mary Keji, who rushed her four-year-old son, Matthew, and her two-and-a-half-year-old daughter, Ludia, to a Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) cholera treatment center (CTC) after they took ill. Here, Keji tells her story.

“As Matthew became worse, I started to worry. Then Ludia started to get sick, and I was afraid. I had heard there was cholera in Juba, and I knew it was serious. People said there was treatment in the main hospital (Juba Teaching Hospital), but it was too far away from me to get [there]. I live on the other side of the city and didn’t have any money to pay a driver to take me to that hospital.

I rushed to my uncle nearby and he was able to lend me 5 SSD (South Sudan Dollars, or about less than $2) to buy some treated water for the children. Still, they kept getting worse. I was troubled, but I didn’t have enough for a bus or taxi. Then some neighbors told me that they had heard that [MSF] had built a special clinic for cholera in our area. I picked up my children, and carried them here—Matthew on my back, and Ludia in my arms.

When I got to this clinic the doctors gave both of them special water to drink. Ludia started to get better, but not Matthew. He stopped wanting to drink and became weak. So, they moved us to this tent. They put a needle in Matthew’s arm with a stronger liquid to help him. They say he will be better soon.

My message to the people is to keep everything clean. Don’t let your children play with dirty water or drink water that you don’t prepare. Boil it for a long time. Be careful, even with eating fruits like mangoes and bananas. Now that cholera is here in Juba, you must watch your children. If you see signs like vomiting or diarrhea then you must try to rush them to a special center like this one.

If this clinic wasn’t here, I don’t know what I could have done. I would have had to wait. And just hope that they would somehow recover."

Matthew and his younger sister, Ludia, were both successfully discharged from MSF’s cholera treatment center after a few days, and were able to return home with their mother.

Cholera causes profuse diarrhea and vomiting, which can lead to death by intense dehydration, sometimes within a matter of hours. Children are especially vulnerable, and need immediate treatment. Cholera is treated simply and successfully by immediately replacing the fluids and salts lost through vomiting and diarrhea. With prompt rehydration, less than one percent of cholera patients die.

MSF medical teams have already provided cholera treatment to 282 people and are in the process of building two additional cholera treatment centers and further oral rehydration points.

MSF is also continuing to provide technical assistance to the South Sudanese Ministry of Health to help reduce the burden on Juba Teaching Hospital. This week, MSF sent an additional four staff there to sanitize the shoes of all patients and caretakers with specially chlorinated water to kill cholera bacteria. MSF plans to further scale up water and sanitation support to the hospital to help increase infection control.

Mary Keiji with her children Matthew and Ludia at an MSF cholera treatment center in Juba
Andreea Campeanu