SOUTH SUDAN – Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), also known as Doctors Without Borders, has issued an alert regarding a mounting measles crisis in South Sudan’s Western Equatoria state, coinciding with efforts to contain a yellow fever outbreak.

Since February, seven deaths among children under five and 460 cases have been reported as of March 24 in three health facilities across Yambio and Nzara counties.

Alarmingly, 90 percent of these children had never received measles vaccination.

With measles cases escalating and vaccination coverage critically low, MSF urges health authorities and the World Health Organization (WHO) to promptly initiate a vaccination campaign to prevent further disease transmission.

Measles has evolved into a persistent emergency in South Sudan, with recurrent outbreaks straining healthcare systems and imperiling communities.

This year alone, over 12,000 measles cases have been documented, with more than 400 cases reported just last week.

In response to this crisis, MSF teams are providing measles treatment at Gangura and Sakure health centers, as well as Yambio State Hospital, all situated in Nzara and Yambio counties.

To accommodate the rapidly increasing case numbers, MSF has augmented the bed capacity for measles patients from 32 to 40.

Furthermore, MSF teams are actively screening children within communities for potential measles symptoms and facilitating referrals to health facilities as necessary.

A noteworthy observation is that twenty percent of children treated for measles at MSF-supported facilities are over the age of five, underscoring the need for a targeted vaccination campaign to reach this older age group, which missed measles vaccinations under the existing expanded immunization program.

The measles outbreak compounds the challenges faced by a region still grappling with yellow fever following the declaration of the fourth outbreak in six years by health authorities in December 2023.

As of mid-March, 81 cases of yellow fever, including six fatalities, have been recorded.

In collaboration with WHO, the Ministry of Health initiated a yellow fever vaccination campaign, immunizing approximately 357,000 individuals across three counties in Western Equatoria State.

This campaign led to a decline in suspected and confirmed cases, underscoring the effectiveness of mass vaccination initiatives.

Zakaria Mwatia, MSF’s head of mission, stressed the urgency of large-scale vaccination campaigns in both Western Equatoria state and Northern Bahr el Ghazal state, where ongoing measles outbreaks persist, to curb further disease spread and preempt future outbreaks, given South Sudan’s fragile health infrastructure.

He emphasized the imperative for the Ministry of Health and other health organizations, including WHO, to intensify efforts to expand vaccination coverage nationwide, particularly in areas susceptible to disease outbreaks.

Low vaccination rates in South Sudan significantly impact communities, especially children, who are highly vulnerable to diseases such as measles, which can result in severe health complications and fatalities.

Given the gravity of the health risks posed by measles and yellow fever, MSF calls for heightened community awareness about these diseases and the adoption of best practices to contain their spread.

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