South Sudanese health officials have launched an emergency vaccination campaign against measles after 14 children died in a suspected outbreak of the contagious viral illness in a payam in Eastern Equatoria state.
The deaths occurred over the past week in Lotimor payam. All of the children who died were under the age of five, state health ministry director, Elijio Omoro Tahir, said.
Health officials learned of the deaths on Tuesday and immediately lodged a request with the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) for a flight to take health workers to Lotimor to conduct tests to determine if the outbreak was indeed measles, Tahir said.
The World Health Organization (WHO) said as many children under five years old as possible will be vaccinated over the next three days in Lotimor.
If the measles outbreak is confirmed, the Ministry of Health will put together a state-wide immunization campaign, Tahir said.
Measles is a highly contagious respiratory disease caused by a virus. South Sudan's health ministry said only nine percent of South Sudanese children under the age of one have been immunized against all so-called childhood diseases, including measles.
In the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends immunizing children against measles once between the ages of 12 months and 15 months and again between four and six years of age.
More than 440 cases of measles have been reported in South Sudan this year. If confirmed, the cases in Lotimor payam would be the first incidence of measles in Eastern Equatoria state, the WHO said.