Child Vaccination in South Sudan
In sub-Saharan Africa, around 30 million children suffer from certain diseases annually. Half a million die because of measles, polio and tetanus. These diseases are immunization preventable, meaning that an adequate routine vaccination can prevent them. Child immunization coverage is a critical indicator of the overall health and well-being of the population. It helps prevent life-threatening diseases, reduces the burden on the health care system and improves economic outcomes by reducing absenteeism and health care costs.
However, in South Sudan, poverty hinders the nation’s efforts to improve child immunization rates. The country has one of the highest maternal and child mortality rates; its fragile health system has suffered further from years of conflict and displacement. In addition, the country faces an acute shortage of health care workers, with only one doctor for every 65,000 people, making it difficult to provide essential health services, including immunization, to all children in need.
Child Vaccination in South Sudan
According to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) immunization dashboard for South Sudan, in 2021, the estimated coverage rates for DTP3 (three doses of diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis vaccine) and MCV1 (one dose of measles-containing vaccine) were both 49%. These rates indicate an improvement from previous years but still fall below the global average of 81% in the same year.
Efforts for Higher Immunization Coverage
UNICEF and GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance, have been working to improve child immunization rates in South Sudan. UNICEF is providing technical and financial assistance to the Ministry of Health to improve the delivery and monitoring of vaccines. At the same time, GAVI has been funding vaccines and cold chain equipment since 2021.
In November 2020, UNICEF launched a major vaccination campaign that vaccinated more than 2.4 million children in South Sudan against polio. The campaign aims to reach children under the age of 5 in high-risk areas, including hard-to-reach and conflict-affected zones.
The collaboration between the government and its partners and the dedication of health workers who confronted security challenges and harsh terrain have reached children in remote areas. Despite the challenges, the campaign reached more than 90% of the targeted children, ensuring protection against polio and other vaccine-preventable diseases.
To improve child immunization rates in South Sudan, UNICEF, WHO and the Ministry of Health launched a nationwide campaign in February 2020. The campaign aimed to reach 2.5 million children and included an integrated approach to combat measles, vitamin A deficiency and worm infections. In addition to the vaccines, vitamin A supplements and deworming tablets, UNICEF engaged communities across South Sudan to provide information about the importance of these interventions; it also urges caregivers to ensure that their children are properly protected. GAVI and SIDA, two organizations dedicated to promoting immunization programs worldwide, support the campaign.
Looking Ahead: Child Vaccination in South Sudan
Efforts to improve child immunization rates in South Sudan are making progress despite the challenges posed by poverty and a fragile health system. Collaborative initiatives led by UNICEF, GAVI and the Ministry of Health are working to enhance the delivery and monitoring of vaccines, reaching children in even the most remote and conflict-affected areas. Major vaccination campaigns have successfully protected millions of children against diseases like polio, demonstrating the dedication of health workers and the resilience of communities. With continued support and integrated approaches, child immunization rates in South Sudan can further improve, ensuring a healthier future for its young population.
– Amber Kim