4th June 2020 Juba, South Sudan
When it comes to vaccines and access to healthcare we must think and act beyond COVID-19
Today the UK is hosting the Global Vaccine Summit to raise money and awareness for Gavi, the vaccine alliance. Gavi is key in the global and local COVID-19 response, supporting countries to invest in preparedness and response, working with global partners on a vaccine, and ensuring that when a vaccine is available, all countries can access it.
The immediate and long-term impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic will be devastating in South Sudan where 7.5 million people already need humanitarian assistance. During this global pandemic we are reminded that work on vaccines is more important than ever. However, it is critical that we continue to prioritise healthcare and vaccines beyond the scope of COVID-19.
The World Health Organisation, UNICEF and Gavi have recently released fresh global warnings of the risks of failing to immunise against diseases such as measles, polio and cholera which could surge worldwide if immunisation is drawn back.
As the international community comes together around the global vaccine effort, locally, we too, must focus on protecting people from dying of preventable diseases in South Sudan. This should be done with a continued focus on routine immunisation and the maintenance of essential health services.
Working in longstanding partnership with Gavi, the UK has been working to vaccinate children against preventable illness. In 2018 alone the UK led and Gavi supported Health Pooled Fund has enabled health facilities across South Sudan to fully vaccinate 100,000 children against preventable diseases. Through the fund we are supporting over 800 health facilities across the country to improve access to health services. This work is essential in COVID-19 preparedness and response as well as addressing other key health concerns like malaria prevention and sexual and reproductive services.
Our ongoing work with key partners including Gavi, IOM and UNICEF will ensure that vulnerable people including children and women of child bearing age continue to have access to vaccines.
The Migration Health Unit of IOM receives funding from Gavi and support from the Ministry of Health to reach vulnerable people, and especially children. Their work targets people in camps for Internally Displaced People, Protection of Civilian sites and hard to reach villages.
This project has been running since 2019 with IOM protecting people from illnesses including tetanus and diphtheria in areas such as Rubkona, Malakal and Wau counties. Now they continue to conduct this essential work whilst minimising the risk of COVID-19 acquisition and transmission at vaccination points.
All IOM health facilities now screen children and caregivers for fever using non-contact infrared thermometers at entrances. Further safeguards are put in place through proper physical distancing, use of personal protective equipment, hygiene practises and awareness raising.
Although COVID-19 presents real challenges to South Sudan’s fragile health system it is crucial that people continue seeking and accessing vital primary healthcare services including routine immunisation. Far more children will die of vaccine preventable diseases if routine immunisation is interrupted than will die from COVID-19.
It is clear that now, more than ever, we must ensure the safety and mobility of health workers as well as their access to resources as they administer healthcare services and vaccines to people who need it the most. We and our partners continue to provide support to health workers and minimise infection risks, allowing them to protect themselves, their communities and their patients whilst continuing to save the lives of the poorest and most vulnerable people across the country.
Recent additional funding from the Ministry of Health will hopefully support health workers and strengthen national and local health systems. We continue to commit to incentives for health workers delivering lifesaving services under the Health Pooled Fund and the Provision of Essential Health Services Project.
As we all work to fight COVID 19 we must maintain essential health services including routine immunisation to ensure that our battle against this pandemic does not risk progress on other critical healthcare priorities.
I was joined this morning by Jean-Philippe Chauzy, Chief of Mission for the International Organisation for Migration, for a detailed interview on Radio Miraya’s breakfast show. Take a listen.