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Vaccinating children in South Sudan

The healthcare system in southern Sudan is struggling to get on to its feet after the devastating impact of over 20 years of war. The biggest killers of children are malaria, diarrhoea and respiratory infections. These preventable diseases are easy to treat but on average, only one in four people are within reach of a health centre.  Only 13% of children are immunized against killer diseases.

Life is hard

In rural Kapoeta North County, the number of people with access to vaccinations is even lower.

Kapoeta North is located in Eastern Equatoria, bordering Kenya. The area is home to the pastoralist Tiposa tribe; the men are cattle keepers and women cultivate small amounts of sorghum and greens.

Life is difficult here. Families have no access to safe drinking water in this area, and walk for hours along dusty footpaths to reach their nearest health facility. Some even walk for days.

Children die from preventable diseases such as diarrhoea and dehydration, and malnutrition rates are high.

Tiposa women walk for hours from the market in Kapoeta South, back to their homes in Kapoeta North County.

Walking from village to village you have the feeling that you are in the middle of nowhere. Thorny acacia trees are the only source of shade from the beating sun, and cattle wander the landscape.

I visited one mother who had just delivered her baby boy two days prior, and it took me – a healthy young person – 45 minutes to walk from her home to the county health centre, with part of the journey shimmying up and down a dried up river bank.

She had not received her tetanus vaccines, and was unaware of the importance of immunizations for her or her four children. She had even had her baby without the assistance of a skilled birth attendant.

How should a pregnant or new mother make this long journey when they are sick, or just for a checkup?

What is a mother to do when she knows that the health centre doesn’t even have medicines in stock?

Due to this lack of healthcare in the rural areas of Kapoeta North, communities still depend on traditional healers for their ailments, in most cases only leading to more preventable deaths.

Mother Sulebeta Nokom, with her newborn boy Logie, of two days.

Our child health days

On 17, 18, and 20 May, Save the Children hosted three Child Health Days in Najie, Lomeyien and Paringa payams (sub-county districts), attracting over 3,000 mothers and children in total, with a special focus on children under 5 and pregnant mothers.

Community health workers and traditional birth attendants presented dramas and songs about the importance of immunization, nutrition, breastfeeding, HIV/AIDS, safe water and malaria.

Attendants lined up by the hundreds to receive immunizations from our Expanded programme on immunisation officers for BCG, Measles, DPT and Polio, as well as Vitamin A and Mabendazole for children aged 6-59 months, and Tetanus for pregnant mothers.

Save the Children outreach officers also provided antenatal care check-ups for pregnant mothers, outpatient nutritional services for malnourished children, and long-lasting insecticide treated mosquito nets for children under 5 and pregnant mothers.

Mothers and children wait to receive vaccinations from Save the Children EPI Outreach Officers.
EPI Officer Viola Achayo registers mothers and children to be vaccinated in Lomeyien.
Save the Children EPI Community Outreach Officer Marino Lokaita prepares his immunization station in the Paringa Primary School using portable cold chain equipment.
Save the Children Midwife Poni Margaret prepares a Tetanus injection for a pregnant mother in Lomeyien.
Locapu Nacoro takes her 2 year old son Lobokwi Locapu to be vaccinated for BCG, DPT, Polio and Measles, by Save the Children EPI Officer Pio Lomone at the Child Health Day.
6 month old Nator Namunya watches suspiciously as he is about to be vaccinated by a Save the Children EPI Outreach Officer in Paringa, Kapoeta North County.
Save the Children EPI Officer Pio Lomone removes vaccinations from the cold chain storage.

‘Now our children are living a long time’

Teacher and traditional birth attendant, Rebecca Joshua Ayarangura, brought her 2-year-old son Luopuoke Lokai, and 3-year-old daughter Regina Rebecca Lokai, to be immunized at the Paringa Child Health Dayon 20 May.

“I brought my children for vaccination since they had not yet been injected. They got the injections and were also given mosquito nets. Now they are protected.

“For the past few days that I have been attending the child health days, I see the importance of children getting vaccinated to protect against killer diseases. Some time back, our children were suffering from these diseases because of ignorance. We were not educated. Now our communities are aware that this medicine works when the child is vaccinated. The importance is that it also reduces mortality rates. Our children here used to die at a very high rate because we did not know what to do. We were just relying on local herbs.”

“Now we have learned about vaccinations and healthcare from Save the Children and donors. We are really appreciative for what they have done. Our children nowadays are living a long time, instead of dying young.”

Saving lives in south Sudan

Save the Children is supporting a permanent cold chain storage system at the Riwoto county health centre, and providing vaccinations to all mothers and children who walk-in seeking services. Save the Children also supports five other health centres in the area which provide free consultations and basic medicines to people who would not otherwise have access to proper health care.

In addition, our outreach Officers move from village to village on a daily basis, mobilizing mothers and offering immunizations to children in the most rural areas of Kapoeta North County – villages that would otherwise have to walk for hours, or days, to receive care.

This simple intervention is instrumental in addressing the problem of preventable deaths in young children caused by easily treated diseases such as diarrhoea, malaria, and pneumonia.

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