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South Sudan aims to reach over 2.8m kids with polio vaccines

By Otiato Opali in Nairobi, Kenya | chinadaily.com.cn | Updated: 2021-02-26 17:30

South Sudan's Ministry of Health and partners are rolling out the second round of the national polio vaccination campaign targeting over 2.8 million children aged 0 - 59 months. The campaign covers 74 counties, with vaccinators going from house to house to vaccinate children, while adhering to COVID-19 protocols.

The World Health Organization declared a polio outbreak in September last year and reported that the disease spread to 17 counties in all the states of South Sudan, with 39 cases of vaccine-derived polio confirmed.

"WHO and partners are supporting the Ministry of Health with the nationwide initiative in a country where widespread displacement due to ongoing conflict and insecurity, as well as perennial flooding, have led to low rates of immunization, making children more vulnerable to polio," WHO said in a statement released on Thursday said.

Atem Nathan, the director general for primary health care at South Sudan's Ministry of Health, said the goal is not only to stop the outbreak but to ensure the country remains polio-free while improving routine immunization coverage.

"With support from the Global Eradication Initiative partners, the country is conducting the second round of nationwide Monovalent Oral Poliovirus Type 2 campaign. I am encouraging all caregivers to allow their children to be vaccinated by the house-to-house teams," Nathan said.

He added that to stop the outbreak and prevent further spread, the ministry, together with WHO, the UN Children's Fund and partners are stepping up surveillance in the search for children who may have developed sudden paralysis.

According to Olushayo Olu, WHO representative for South Sudan, the country is intensifying the dissemination of messages using diverse channels such as community influencers, radio talk shows, household and focused group meetings, megaphone announcements along with the use of posters demonstrating the importance of vaccination.

"The campaign provides an opportunity for vulnerable children to receive critical interventions that can avert life-threatening disease such as disability from poliomyelitis," Olu said.

He added that to stop the outbreak, partners have enhanced surveillance with emphasis placed on community and health facility case search, along with strengthening investigation and timely transportation of samples to the laboratory.

"To turn this vaccination campaign into a success, we need to ensure that parents are fully aware of the importance of the vaccination and ask for their children to get the vaccine. Therefore, communication activities are critical," said Andrea Suley, UNICEF South Sudan representative.

While launching an earlier campaign aimed at vaccinating 1.5 million children against polio in November, WHO pointed out that less than 50 percent of the children in South Sudan are immunized against polio and other life-threatening diseases, putting them at risk of lifelong disability and death.

Moreover, widespread displacement and continual population movements compounded with COVID-19 restrictions, have further aggravated the country's immunization coverage and have exacerbated children's vulnerability to polio, especially those in hard-to-reach areas.

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