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March 19, 2014

At South Sudan UN Camps, IDPs Line Up for Cholera Vaccine

by Andrew Green

Simon Khan Lok was one of thousands of South Sudanese who lined up for a second oral cholera vaccine dose at a U.N. camp for the displaced this week.

Days earlier, heavy rains washed trash and human waste under the plastic sheets Lok used to build the makeshift home he has lived in since fighting broke out in Juba three months ago before quickly spreading around the country. Poor hygiene and living conditions mean Lok and the thousands of other Internally Displaced Persons (IDP's) living in the U.N. camp are more vulnerable to water-borne diseases like cholera and hepatitis E.

With the rainy season due to begin in earnest in the coming weeks, aid agencies have warned that the likelihood of contracting cholera is going to rise, and they have launched a pre-emptive vaccination campaign.

People living in cramped conditions at U.N. facilities, or outdoors, are especially vulnerable, the aid agencies say, urging them to get vaccinated against cholera.

The South Sudan health ministry, World Health Organization (WHO), faith-based humanitarian agency Medair, Doctors Without Borders (MSF) and the United Nations' Children's Fund (UNICEF) are working together to vaccinate 140,000 people across South Sudan against cholera over the next few weeks.

According to WHO, the oral cholera vaccine is safe for anyone over the age of one year, except pregnant women. Two doses of the vaccine are generally 85 percent effective at preventing cholera, WHO says.

More than 21,000 people at two U.N. camps for the displaced in Juba, where the U.N. estimates some 32,000 have sought shelter since fighting broke out in December, have received the first dose of the oral cholera vaccine.
They ask me, ‘Is it important?’ I tell them, ‘Sure. This will protect you from cholera.’
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Medair administered the vaccine at the U.N. camps in Juba. 

It sent hygiene and health "mobilizers" like Gatrial Pham Ruey to the camp where Lok lives, to encourage  people to come to one of six vaccination sites to get the second and final dose. Pham also answered any questions the camps' residents might have about the vaccine.

"They ask me, ‘Is it important?’ They talk about the medicine. It is tasteless. They say, ‘This tasteless medicine, is it good for us? To protect us?’ I tell them, ‘Sure. This will protect you from cholera,’” Pham said.

The second round of the vaccination campaign in Juba will wrap up next week. Medair officials plan to hold a third round of vaccinations some time this month, to catch people who might have missed earlier campaigns.