Scores of children in South Sudan's Upper Nile state have been diagnosed with measles in the last few weeks, prompting officials to launch a vaccination campaign, a top health official said.
"As of August we have been receiving reports of sporadic cases of measles-like disease," Ministry of Health Undersecretary Makur Matur Koryom said.
"Of late, we have received laboratory confirmation" of the diagnosis of measles, Matur said, adding that there are 44 confirmed cases of the illness in the state, all among children six years old and younger.
Measles is a highly contagious respiratory disease caused by a virus. It can result in fever, a full-body rash and, in some cases, death. In Africa, it is the leading cause of blindness among children, and yet, it is preventable by vaccination.
The South Sudanese Health Ministry is working with the World Health Organization (WHO) and UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) to contain the outbreak by vaccinating more than 31,000 children around the country, and monitoring areas near the epicenter of the latest outbreak, in Malakal County, for signs that the illness might be spreading, Matur said.
Currently, only 34 percent of children in South Sudan are immunized against any so-called childhood illness, including measles, before the age of one.
Dr. Othwonh Thabo, Director of Integrated Disease Surveillance and Response at the Ministry of Health, urged parents to get their children vaccinated.
In the United States and other Western countries, including Britain and France, parents' refusal to have their children vaccinated against measles has resulted in an uptick of the measles rate.
South Sudan had the fifth highest rate of measles in the world last year, and has seen more than 440 confirmed cases of measles this year, according to WHO data.