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Southern Sudan’s largest mass measles campaign aims to vaccinate 4.5 million children against the killer disease

© UNMIS/Arpan Munier
Measles vaccination supplies are unloaded in Southern Sudan ahead of the country’s largest-ever mass immunization campaign.

By Ben Parker

TEREKEKA, Southern Sudan, 28 November 2005 – A massive measles immunization campaign, targeting 4.5 million children under the age of 15, has been launched in Southern Sudan by UNICEF, the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the newly-established government here.

The campaign is not only more than twice the scale of any previous effort but, unlike ongoing polio campaigns, it also requires training for vaccinators to safely deliver injections.

Measles is the number one vaccine-preventable cause of child deaths in Southern Sudan. Makoi Samuel, the local supervisor of the campaign, says measles is a “routine menace” and many outbreaks are never reported from the rural areas.

The rolling campaign aims to reach children in thousands of towns and villages across the region.  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.

© UNICEF Sudan/2005/Parker
In Terekeka, Southern Sudan, two children have a look at some of the fourteen fridges and freezers installed to establish a cold chain facility for the mass immunization campaign.

Myriad challenges

On the shores of the Nile, the village of Terekeka has been picked as one of the first locations in this unprecedented public health campaign. A rough three hour drive from the capital of Southern Sudan, Juba, through grasslands grazed by long-horned cattle, Terekeka shows the damage that years of war have inflicted.

Southern Sudan’s health services are in tatters and just starting to show signs of recovery since a peace deal was signed in early 2005. Clinics are understaffed and dilapidated and often too far to walk to from their villages. Terekeka, like most villages across the region, has no piped water, sewage system, telephone or tarmac roads, making access to emergency health care difficult. Only about 20% of children under five are estimated to be immunized against measles.

“The health infrastructure is very, very, very poor,” confirms Makoi Samuel. Terekeka’s only doctor left town a few weeks ago and no one knows when he is coming back.

The massive $12 million effort has being funded by the US Centers for Disease Control, the governments of Canada and Australia, the UN Foundation and the Measles Initiative. The funds will go towards includes mobilising hundreds of staff and volunteers, procuring dozens of vehicles, generators, refrigerators and cold boxes and millions of single-use syringes, all backed by training and social mobilisation.

Although supplies often arrive by air, some are delivered on trucks. Last week, three arrived from Juba carrying cold boxes, bicycles for vaccinators to ride out to the villages on, cotton wool and an assortment of spare tyres, ice packs and other paraphernalia that the campaign depends on. Logistical support is expected from the UN peace support mission in Sudan, UNMIS.




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