Up to 3.2 million South Sudanese children have received vaccinations against
polio in a United Nations-backed campaign to ensure the new country remains free
of the deadly disease, more than two years after the last case was reported.
Over 20,000 people fanned out across the country’s 10 states over five days last
week to reach all children under the age of five in the second round of a
three-phase campaign that will conclude with further vaccinations next month.
The campaign, coordinated by South Sudan’s health ministry, is being backed by
the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the UN World Health Organization (WHO).
UNICEF bought the vaccines and WHO is assisting with monitoring and surveillance
during the campaign.
Each child received two drops of the polio vaccine and was then marked by ink on
the small finger of the right hand to indicate they had been immunized.
Vaccinators went from house to house and village to village to reach targeted
UNICEF reported that the immunization system in South Sudan, which became
independent in July after years of war, was still in its infancy, with low
public awareness of the value of vaccinations.
Bismarck Swangin, a communications officer for UNICEF, told the UN News Centre
that given the numerous casualties during the Sudanese civil war, the new nation
“can’t afford to lose more due to vaccine-preventable diseases.”
Mr. Swangin stressed the importance of the campaign given the few health centres
that exist in South Sudan, which has little infrastructure and few trained
A highly infectious disease caused by a virus, polio invades the nervous system
and leads to irreversible paralysis in one out of 200 cases. Only four countries
– Afghanistan, India, Nigeria and Pakistan – remain polio-endemic today, and the
number of cases has declined drastically in the past 25 years.
Polio also re-emerged in South Sudan in April 2008, but after an intensive
vaccination campaign, no new cases have been reported since June 2009.