Gaining independence from the Republic of Sudan in 2011, South Sudan, “the world’s youngest nation,” now struggles with several economic, health and political challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic. By November 6, 2021, South Sudan reported 12,453 COVID-19 cases and 133 deaths. In particular, the country is facing several obstacles in distributing COVID-19 vaccine doses. Confronting these difficulties, South Sudanese community leaders and international organizations are stepping up to ensure vaccine success in South Sudan. These efforts showcase how a country can turn challenges and tragedies into victories and triumphs.
Logistical Challenges in Vaccine Distribution
As a land ravaged by decades of war, underdeveloped South Sudan has one of the lowest COVID-19 vaccination rates globally, with just 0.8% of the population receiving one dose and 0.3% receiving both doses by October 15, 2021. Lacking road infrastructure significantly contributes to the nation’s low vaccination rate as much of “the country remains largely inaccessible by road.”
A country roughly “the size of France,” the nation grapples with governmental neglect, political challenges and ethnic violence, which has led to a poor infrastructure system, among other issues. Lacking road infrastructure means South Sudan must transport its vaccines by air, a very costly endeavor that makes vaccine distribution efforts in South Sudan significantly more expensive than the cost of purchasing vaccines.
These barriers to vaccine distribution have led to monumental consequences. In May 2021, COVAX donated 132,000 COVID-19 doses to South Sudan. However, these doses “went to waste” as South Sudan had no choice but to return the doses. According to CARE, “the logistics did not exist to get the doses from the capital city Juba into the arms of the South Sudanese people” before the vaccine expiry dates. These challenges exacerbate the inequality in vaccine distribution between South Sudan and other developed countries, which are already vaccinating children while administering third booster shots. Coordinating the entire procedure and timing correctly are vital factors for vaccine success in South Sudan.
Addressing Distribution Bottlenecks
In light of these vast logistical problems, South Sudan aimed to turn this situation around by the time it received its next shipment of doses in July 2021. South Sudan raced to obtain “surge funding from CARE’s Fast & Fair Campaign, South Sudan’s Health Pool Fund, UNHCR and UNICEF.” Although South Sudan did not have enough time and resources to build road infrastructure, the nation used the funding for “investing, building staff capacity, addressing staff gaps” and enhancing vaccine confidence in communities.
This helped address some of the other “distribution bottlenecks” South Sudan experienced in May 2021. As a result, South Sudan was able to administer all 60,000 vaccines from the July shipment. However, the vaccine delivery process was significantly “more expensive than what COVAX currently budgets for.” COVAX “budgets $1.41 per dose for vaccine delivery, but South Sudan had to spend about $10 per dose to successfully deliver vaccines.” These are costs that South Sudan cannot bear alone. Therefore, international support to South Sudan is essential.
These efforts continue to boost vaccine success in South Sudan, and with dedicated community leaders, the country is on track to deliver more vaccines to its people. In October 2021, South Sudan began “a new vaccination campaign” following the delivery of roughly 60,000 Johnson & Johnson vaccines from the United States. These single-dose vaccines eased the logistical burden of getting vaccines to citizens.
Aid to South Sudan
Because the vaccine distribution process in South Sudan is so costly, the nation may require “as much as $126 million for delivery alone.” These costs highlight the need for more grants and donations from international donors to ensure vaccine success in South Sudan. Despite South Sudan’s struggles in vaccination distribution, there is hope as organizations step in to support the nation. With continued support, South Sudan can dramatically increase its vaccination rate despite its standing as an underdeveloped nation.
– Tri Truong