Juba - A meningitis outbreak that has swept across south Sudan since the start of the year has killed 661 people, while dozens more have died from measles and cholera, a report said on Tuesday.

The joint report by the semi-autonomous south Sudan government and the World Health Organisation said more than 11 000 people had contracted meningitis since the start of 2007.

Another 5 218 people had exhibited cholera-like symptoms of acute watery diarrhoea, and of those 140 died.

A measles outbreak has also killed at least 14 people and infected 470 this year despite a vaccination campaign that has seen two million south Sudanese children inoculated against the disease, the report said.

Meningitis outbreaks affect Sudan during the dry season, and the disease has spread more rapidly since a 2005 north-south peace deal ended two decades of civil war, easing movement as the region's health infrastructure remained in tatters.

Hundreds of thousands of south Sudanese returning home after the peace deal are especially at risk because they often live in crowded camps where infectious diseases can thrive.

Sudan is also part of the so-called "meningitis belt" that stretches from East to West Africa.

Meningitis is an infection of the thin lining that surrounds the brain and spinal cord. Often transmitted by coughing or sneezing, it can cause complications including brain damage and deafness.

About 5-10 percent of patients die from the illness, according to the WHO.


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