The Ebola outbreak in the DRC is now the second-worst in history
The Ministry of Health of South Sudan, with support from the World Health Organisation (WHO), Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, UNICEF and the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other partners, has begun administering the jab to front-line staff fighting the spread of the disease. Vaccination began in Yambio, Gbudue State, but health workers in Tombura, Yei and Nimule as well as the capital city, Juba, will also be offered the vaccine. These are high-risk areas bordering the DRC, now experiencing its tenth outbreak of Ebola, with a total of 733 cases and 459 deaths reported since August 1.
Neighbouring countries have not reported any cases of Ebola, but preparedness is crucial.
The vaccine offers protection against the Zaire strain of the virus, the one affecting DRC at present.
Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa, said: “It is absolutely vital that we are prepared for any potential case of Ebola spreading beyond the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Vaccinations are now being administered to frontline staff in South Sudan
“WHO is investing a huge amount of resources into preventing Ebola from spreading outside DRC and helping governments ramp up their readiness to respond should any country have a positive case of Ebola.”
Vaccination is one of a number of preparedness measures which South Sudan is putting into place, with WHO deploying more than 30 support staff members.
It has helped train 60 health workers in order to administer the yet-to-be-licensed Ebola vaccine.
To detect any travellers entering the country who may be infected with the virus, the Ministry of Health, with the support of its partners, has established 17 screening points. Almost one million people have been screened to date.
South Sudan shares a border with the DRC
WHO is working to improve engagement with communities, active surveillance for the disease at the community and health facility levels, and infection prevention and control methods.
It is also strengthening local laboratory capacity to test samples taken from people suspected of having Ebola more effectively.
Protective gear for responders has been stockpiled in a dedicated warehouse.
Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, in addition to its work making the Ebola vaccine stockpile available, is providing $2million to support the WHO’s vaccination efforts in countries neighbouring the DRC, including South Sudan.
Dr Matshidiso Moeti has said it was “vital” to contain the outbreak
Dr Seth Berkley, CEO of Gavi said: “Although research is ongoing, the evidence so far suggests the Ebola vaccine is a highly effective tool to help stop epidemics and can be used to prevent this national outbreak from becoming a regional one.
“Vaccinating front-line workers and health workers in South Sudan border regions will be crucial: an outbreak in South Sudan would be deeply concerning.”
Uganda began vaccinating front-line workers in November 2018, with more than 2,600 health workers in eight high-risk districts immunised so far.
In DRC itself, more than 66,000 people have been vaccinated – more than 21,000 of them health and other front-line workers. Rwanda also has plans to vaccinate its front-line responders.
The yet-to-be-licensed rVSV-ZEBOV vaccine has been shown to be highly protective against the Zaire strain of the Ebola virus in trials.
Though not yet commercially licensed, it is being provided under what is known as “compassionate use” in the ongoing Ebola outbreak in North Kivu province of DRC as part of recommendations from the Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunization.
The vaccine was also used in the Ebola outbreak in Equateur province of DRC in May–July 2018.
Though the latest outbreak is serious, it is still dwarfed in size by the outbreak which spread throughout several countries in west Africa between 2013 and 2016 which resulted in the death of 11,310 people.