South Sudan with support from the World Health Organization (WHO) and international health partners has begun vaccinating health workers and other frontline responders who are at high risk of contracting Ebola in case of an outbreak.
Riek Gai Kok, South Sudan’s minister of health, said the exercise is part of the on-going efforts of the ministry and partners to strengthen the country’s preparedness capacities and mitigate the risk of Ebola virus disease (EVD) importation from the raging outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
“There are no confirmed cases of Ebola in South Sudan. But, South Sudan is at particularly high risk of imported cases due to the cross-border movement of people and goods, hence protecting frontline and health care workers from getting infected with Ebola is the highest priority for the Ministry of Health in South Sudan,” Kok told journalists in Juba.
The vaccination began in Yambio, Gbudue State, and health workers in Tombura, Yei and Nimule as well as the capital city Juba, will also be offered the vaccine.
Health officials said these are high-risk areas bordering the DRC, which is experiencing an outbreak of Ebola.
Matshidiso Moeti, WHO regional director for Africa, said the UN health agency is investing a huge amount of resources into preventing Ebola from spreading outside DRC and helping governments’ ramp up their readiness to respond should any country have a positive case of Ebola.
“It is absolutely vital that we are prepared for any potential case of Ebola spreading beyond the Democratic Republic of the Congo,” Moeti said.
She said South Sudan received 2,160 doses of the Ebola vaccine from Merck, the vaccine developer, as part of these preparedness activities.
According to WHO which has deployed more than 30 staff members to support these activities, the vaccine offers protection against the Zaire strain of the virus, which is the one affecting DRC at present.
The UN health agency said it has helped train 60 health workers in good clinical practice principles and protocol procedures to administer the yet-to-be-licensed Ebola vaccine.
It said the health ministry with the support of its partners has established 17 screening points to detect any travellers entering the country who may be infected with the virus.
According to health ministry, Ebola virus disease transmission in DRC continues in North Kivu and Ituri provinces, adding that Butembo and Katwa are the current hot spots and represent 65 percent of new confirmed cases in the past 21 days.
“As of Jan. 25, a total of 724 Ebola cases, including 451 deaths, have been reported from the DRC – an immediate neighbor of South Sudan. Of these, 57 cases occurred among health workers,” said Kok.