Following one of the worst measles outbreaks in South Sudan’s recent history, the Ministry of Health, with support from its partners including the International Rescue Committee, plans to conduct a nationwide measles vaccination campaign across the country in March 2023. With an 182% increase incases of measles  between the first two months of 2022 compared to the first two months of 2023, the national campaign is aimed at closing immunity gaps to stop the transmission of the virus and protect the health of the populace.

According toWHO, from January 2022 to 1 February 2023, health authorities in South Sudan responded to an ongoing outbreak of measles, with 4339 suspected cases and 46 deaths reported across the country. Measles is a highly contagious disease caused by a virus, but it is one that can easily be prevented with timely immunization. Children are most at risk of the disease – children who are malnourished are even more vulnerable. 

South Sudan is also experiencing severe food insecurity with 57% of the population, including children, lacking sufficient nutrition. When a child is malnourished, they have a weak immune system and their body is unable to fight off common diseases, thereby increasing the risk of severe measles and other adverse outcomes.

Caroline Sekyewa, IRC Country Director in South Sudan said,

“In South Sudan measles vaccination coverage rates have remained low and reachedonly 69% in 2021, which is below the target of 95% for measles elimination. With increased population in the refugee camps, disruption of healthcare service delivery and limited access to healthcare services, this outbreak could further exacerbate an already fragile health system which is also battling malnutrition and flooding. The IRC, however, continues to step up efforts to curb the spread of the disease through public health awareness.”

To get vaccines into the arms of children who remain unprotected, the IRC will continue to work closely with the Ministry of Health and partners to conduct measles vaccination campaigns in the affected counties. Currently, the IRC is mobilizing community volunteers to raise awareness and to educate parents on the importance of the measles vaccination. The community members are encouraged to minimize direct contact with infected children and to report any suspected cases.

The IRC is appealing to all donors to make funding available to fight this outbreak, which is having a detrimental effect on the lives of children across South Sudan and threatening the lives of children in neighbouring countries. 

The IRC started working in South Sudan in 1989. With more than 700 full-time staff members, the IRC in South Sudan provides critical primary and reproductive health and nutrition, environmental health, protection and economic recovery and resilience services to increasingly vulnerable internally displaced persons, refugees, returnees and host communities. The IRC in South Sudan partners with national and state authorities and local partners to strengthen health systems and support especially displaced populations to obtain durable solutions.