Middle East

Syria conflict: Typhoid outbreak at Yarmouk refugee camp

Damaged buildings inside the Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmouk in Damascus, Syria (3 June 2015) Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The UN gained access to Yarmouk residents on Tuesday for the first time since June

There is an outbreak of typhoid in the besieged Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmouk in the south of the Syrian capital Damascus, the UN has warned.

A UN Relief and Works Agency (Unrwa) spokesman said at least six cases of the disease had been confirmed.

Yarmouk is the scene of a major humanitarian crisis.

It has come under bombardment from government forces since 2012, but conditions worsened in April when Islamic State (IS) militants attacked.

The 18,000 people living there, including 3,500 children, have no access to regular food supplies, clean water or healthcare.

'Tip of the iceberg'

The cases of typhoid were confirmed by Unrwa medics after they managed to gained access to Yarmouk residents for the first time since June.

Typhoid is caused by a highly contagious bacterium, spread from person to person by food and water that is contaminated with traces of infected faeces or urine.

Symptoms include nausea, fever and abdominal pain. If untreated, the disease can lead to complications in the gut and head that kill up to one in five patients.

"Our concern is that these typhoid cases only represent the tip of the iceberg, because the erosion of health services and appalling public health standards create a massive, massive risk of diseases breaking out," Unrwa spokesman Chris Gunness told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

"The situation is desperate, and suffering may be far more widespread and intense inside the camp."

Mr Gunness said women inside Yarmouk were dying in childbirth because of a lack of medicines, children were reduced to eating grass because there was no food, and the main water supply had not been functional since last September.

"Never has the imperative for sustained humanitarian access been greater," he warned.

Yarmouk was first built for Palestinians fleeing the 1948 Arab-Israeli war. Before the Syrian civil war began in 2011, it had more than 150,000 refugees living there.