MSF teams have completed a preventive cholera vaccination campaign in and around the refugee camps in Maban County, South Sudan. Hoping to prevent the spread of the potentially fatal disease, staff vaccinated 105,000 refugees in four camps and 27,500 other residents of the area.
MSF launched the vaccination campaign with the cooperation of South Sudan’s Ministry of Health as part of a cholera preparedness and prevention plan. While teams have already set up and pre-stocked cholera treatment facilities in the camps, the remoteness of the area and supply challenges mean that a cholera outbreak could be disastrous. That's what makes the added prevention provided by a vaccination campaign so crucial.
“The key for preventing cholera is to ensure sufficient access to clean drinking water, and to have appropriate sanitation and hygiene facilities,” says Paul Critchley, MSF emergency coordinator in Maban County. “We are currently tackling an escalating hepatitis E outbreak in the camps, so we know that sanitation conditions here are not yet adequate. Hepatitis E is spread in similar ways to cholera, and this reinforces the need to do all we can to prevent cholera breaking out too.”
Around 110,000 refugees who have fled the ongoing conflict in neighboring Sudan’s Blue Nile State have gathered in four refugee camps. Living conditions in the camps are extremely harsh, and refugees are entirely dependent on humanitarian organizations. With no easy access routes, it was a challenge for MSF to bring in 19,200-liter refrigerators, the generators to keep them running, and the 290,000 vials of vaccine.
Despite these logistical challenges, this innovative approach to cholera prevention is justified in a situation where a population is exceptionally vulnerable and where the consequences of an outbreak would be particularly devastating.
The vaccine comes in the form of oral drops and was given to each person twice, with a gap of two to three weeks between doses. By deploying a substantial health promotion effort in advance, the teams were able to reach more than 132,000 people with both doses of the vaccine. The MSF teams were supported by staff from GOAL, IOM, Medair, Relief International, Solidarités, and South Sudan’s Ministry of Health.