UNICEF, the World Health Organisation and the Federal Ministry of Health of the newly-formed Government of Southern Sudan are working with dozens of NGO partners, hundreds of local health workers and communities to achieve a public health breakthrough. The ambitious Mass Measles Campaign is only possible because of the historic peace agreement of early 2005, which has brought an end to full-scale civil war, opened up access routes into and within Southern Sudan, and established a new government structure covering the whole region with strong donor support.
The Vice President of the Government of Southern Sudan, Dr Riek Machar Teny-Dhurgon, said “the Government of Southern Sudan is fully supportive… the success of this huge undertaking demands concerted effort.”
The Mass Measles Campaign is not only more than twice the scale of any previous effort but, unlike ongoing polio campaigns (which reach about 2 million children) also requires training for vaccinators to safely deliver vaccine doses by injection.
The massive $12 million effort, so far funded by the US Centers for Disease Control, the governments of Canada and Australia, the UN Foundation and the Measles Initiative includes mobilising hundreds of staff and volunteers, procuring dozens of vehicles, fridges and cold boxes and millions of single-use syringes, all backed by training and social mobilisation. Logistical support is expected from the UN peace support mission in Sudan, UNMIS. Vaccination teams will head out from vaccine cold storage hubs to try and reach all children between six months and the age of 14 in every village, by road, river or on foot to achieve 95% coverage. Any pockets of local conflict will be avoided and returned to when the situation allows.
Of all the child deaths in Southern Sudan that could be prevented by vaccines, it is estimated that the majority are due to measles. Only an estimated 20% of children under five in Southern Sudan are vaccinated against measles through the routine immunization programme, compared to about 67% in the rest of Sudan. Decades of conflict have left Southern Sudan’s health services in tatters. Clinics, health centres and hospitals are largely staffed by over-stretched volunteers and supplied by international aid agencies. Many people live out of walking distance from any health facility at all. Disease outbreaks, including measles, are common, and a major cause of avoidable deaths of children.
“We are taking advantage of an unprecedented opportunity to reverse some of the worse impacts of war on Southern Sudan’s children,” said Simon Strachan, UNICEF Director for Southern Sudan. “Measles is a global public health priority, and this campaign can bring Southern Sudan up to – and beyond - the level of its neighbours in a relatively short space of time”, said Abdullahi Ahmed, Head of Office of WHO in Southern Sudan.
Measles is especially dangerous to children living in displaced or overcrowded settings with poor sanitation and shelter and a short food and water supply. Poverty and conflict has left millions of children in Southern Sudan highly vulnerable to one of the most contagious diseases, and the mass movement of displaced people back to their home areas presents an additional risk.
The campaign will also support the establishment, revitalization or strengthening of routine immunisation services in all counties through provision of cold chain equipment and training of health staff at all levels. Capacity building for local authority counterparts will lead to stronger primary health care services in general.
Launched in February 2001, the Measles Initiative (www.measlesinitiative.org) is a partnership formed to reduce and control measles deaths. The Initiative is led by the United Nations Foundation, American Red Cross, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, UNICEF and the World Health Organization. The Measles Initiative (MI) bases its success on its far-reaching partnership between public and private institutions, including key players such as the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), Becton, Dickinson and Company, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Church of Jesus Christ and Latter Day Saints, Becton, Dickinson and Company (BD), the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI) and countries and governments affected by measles. While the Measles Initiative is focused in Africa where the majority of measles-related deaths occur, partners also work on a wide-range of health initiatives around the world, including measles control and other vaccination services outside of Africa.
For further information, contact:
Ben Parker, Communication Officer, UNICEF Southern Sudan +882 165 110 1889
Dr Abdullahi Ahmed, WHO Southern Sudan Head of Office +254 20 622832