National, News

Marking 50 years of Expanded Programme for Immunization

By Charles K Mark


South Sudan joins the global community to mark monumental 50th anniversary of Expanded Programme for Immunization (EPI).

In a joint statement extended by UNICEF, the milestone highlights the transformative power of vaccines that have decreased child mortality rates globally.

They lead to elevated health standards by reducing or eradicating the prevalence of critical diseases, such as smallpox, and reducing the wild poliovirus to two countries.

UNICEF, WHO, and the National Ministry of Health noted that in 1974, only 5% of the world’s children had been vaccinated against diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis.

That figure has increased to nearly 85% of children worldwide and 73% in South Sudan today, according to the health partners.

Since then, the wild poliovirus has been geographically limited to only two countries, and the threat of several serious infectious childhood diseases has also been reduced.

The National Minister of Health, Yolanda Awel Deng, explained that WHO is recognizing collective efforts to save and improve countless lives from vaccine-preventable diseases this year.

She advocates for increased vaccination coverage to safeguard children against vaccine-preventable diseases.

“Unfortunately, routine vaccination coverage against these diseases remains low in South Sudan, leaving many children vulnerable to childhood illnesses,” Minister Awel decried.

Over the past five years, vaccination rates among infants are said to have significantly improved.

According to WHO and UNICEF’s estimates of national immunization coverage (WUENIC), the percentage of children under one year old who received the third dose of the DPT vaccine, which protects against diphtheria, pertussis (whooping cough), and tetanus, increased from 59% in 2018 to 73% in 2022.

Given the challenging context of the country and the suboptimal immunization coverage, there have been outbreaks of yellow fever, measles, and vaccine-derived poliovirus cases.

The Ministry of Health provided opportunities to 465,798 people aged 9 months–60 years in five affected counties in Western Equatoria State to be vaccinated with the yellow fever vaccine.

It also reached 115,981 children under 15 years old with the measles vaccine in three counties.

The Ministry vaccinated 3,083,515 children under five nationwide with the novel oral polio vaccine type 2 (nOPV2).

Meanwhile, the World Health Organization (WHO) said it works with countries across the globe to raise awareness of the value of vaccines and immunization.

Dr. Humphrey Karamagi, the WHO Representative for South Sudan, assured that vaccines have been proven to reduce illness and deaths among children.

He said for 50 years, the Expanded Program on Immunization (EPI) has focused on protecting children from diseases like tuberculosis, diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, polio, and measles.

“Today, this number has grown to 13 universally recommended vaccines across the life course. Vaccines prevent serious diseases and save lives,” Karamagi maintained.

For her part, Hamida Lasseko, UNICEF Representative in South Sudan, said, “Immunization is not just a medical achievement; it’s a testament to a shared commitment to safeguarding lives and ensuring a healthier future for all.”

She called for a renewed dedication to reaching every child, every family, and every community with the life-saving protection of vaccines.

“Together, we prove that immunization for all is not just a goal; it’s our collective duty, and it’s humanly possible,” Laseko lamented.


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