It is one of the largest vaccination campaigns in Medair’s thirty-year history in South Sudan. From August to October 2022, our emergency response team immunised 138,037 children and adolescents between the ages of 6 months and 15 years to protect them from contracting measles. In South Sudan, the dangerous childhood disease is still a major threat due to very low vaccination rates. After the measles outbreak in the capital region Juba was officially announced in July, Medair and other partnering organisations joined forces to respond.
“Close to my home there were measles cases reported. Children got very sick. I was truly not comfortable with the situation. Measles is a very dangerous disease, I have heard children get very high fever and can even get blind. So, I made sure my children get vaccinated. To stop this outbreak, I joined the Medair vaccination team and got trained. Together with Medair, I am now acting for my community so that measles does not spread, reports Martha. She has four children and is one of many residents of the outbreak area who have agreed to participate in the vaccination campaign. Without the commitment of the community and the financial support of the European Union, the success of the campaign would not have been possible.
Medair was able to form and train a total of 60 vaccination teams for mass immunisation in a very short time. The success of the vaccination campaign is by no means self-evident. The infrastructure in the country presents a lot of challenges to implementing such projects. “The poor data situation here on the ground has made our planning much more difficult. Our target group for the vaccination campaign in the region has so far been estimated at just under 60,000 children between the ages of 6 months and 15 years. We quickly realized that these estimates were not correct when significantly more children than expected were registered for the vaccinations. To get enough vaccines for more than 138,000 children during the campaign was very difficult, but thanks to the good work of our team it was possible”, says project coordinator Melanie Pol.
Keeping these vaccines cool enough for use in more remote vaccination centres was a particular challenge for our logistics team. “If the vaccine is not cold enough, it loses its effectiveness,” explains Medair’s logistician Simon. With large refrigerated boxes, he and his colleagues were constantly on the road to supply the various vaccination centres with vaccines and supplies. “It was often difficult to find enough cooling packs. There are too few points of contact for the cold chain here in Juba. With other vaccination campaigns running in parallel, it was important to be quick and plan ahead to ensure the vaccine was cooled,” Simon recalls.
The success of the campaign is also due to the great work of the many vaccination teams under difficult conditions. Managing the large number of children attending the vaccination centres was a big achievement, especially in the high temperatures. Since the younger children in particular are often known to be afraid of injections, they usually showed little gratitude for the protection the vaccination gave them. “Who likes injections,” smiles team leader Khon with understanding. Even after a long vaccination marathon like that day, his laughter and the joy of his work have not faded. “It’s exhausting to stand here for hours and vaccinate children. My legs are really burning tonight. But protecting the children with the vaccine and preventing the spread of the disease is motivating and worth the effort for me.”
At the end of the vaccination campaign, Khon and his eager team have been able to vaccinate more than 138,000 children against measles – more than double the number that could have been planned at the beginning. In the districts where Medair was responsible for the vaccination campaign, the immunisation coverage rate is now 98.8%. This is a great achievement for our emergency response team, with many important lessons learned. Because of the poor nationwide coverage with vaccination protection, further measles outbreaks have already been declared in other parts of the country. There, too, our team is currently responding with passion.
The measles vaccination campaign was funded by aid from the European Union (ECHO).
This content was produced with resources gathered by Medair field and headquarters staff. The views expressed herein are those solely of Medair and should not be taken, in any way, to reflect the official opinion of any other organisation.