A spike in polio cases raises deep concerns over the further spread of polio in South Sudan, compounded by low levels of sanitation and health care available, Save the Children warned on Monday.
The Country has recorded at least nine new cases of polio in the Greater Bahr el Ghazal region.
This came just three months after the World Health Organization (WHO) declared Africa free of the wild poliovirus.
The statement by Save the Children stated that these recent cases are reportedly from the vaccine-derived poliovirus 2 (cVDPV2), a mutation of a weakened form of the virus that was administered through vaccination.
According to Save the Children, this is leading to fears that even less families will vaccinate children, as well as could spread further due to the lack of proper sanitation in many parts of the country.
“With already one of the highest under 5 mortality rates in the world, a chronically malnourished population, and recurring epidemics, South Sudan faces a new threat to children in a new poliovirus outbreak,” Save the Children warned.
South Sudan’s health care system is already weak, specifically in the Greater Bahr el Ghazal region where the new polio cases surfaced.
Coupled with low vaccination coverage and poor hygiene and sanitation in the area, the virus poses a risk for children in South Sudan, where only 40 percent of the people have access to health care.
The situation is exacerbated by recent floods that have destroyed parts of the health infrastructure and limited access to essential health services such as vaccination programs.
Some 368,000 people are displaced by floods in South Sudan.
“Polio usually can spread rapidly in areas with a lack of clean, safe water. Violence and floods in some parts of the country hamper access to health services as well, pushing unvaccinated children to a high risk of infection,” said Rama Hansraj, Save the Children Country Director.
“The Ministry of Health and partners like Save the Children have grave concerns that a resurface of polio poses a threat to children’s lives, as the child health situation in the country is already worsening.”
“This outbreak has emerged as a result of low immunity and under-immunization of communities rather than a problem with the vaccine.’’
As of April 2020, only 890,000 children younger than five years were vaccinated against polio.
More polio campaigns are planned, but funding and access to some areas make the work challenging.
Save the Children called on the international community and the government to provide urgent financial assistance to increase the Polio campaign across the country.
It said that this would ensure unhindered access for polio campaigners in order to reach every last child and strengthen public emergency health capacities through increased public financial spending on child health.
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