Health care workers and other front-line responders in South Sudan are being vaccinated against Ebola amid a worsening outbreak of the disease in neighboring Democratic Republic of the Congo, or DRC, WHO announced.
Fearing cross-border spread from the DRC, Uganda began vaccinating front-line workers in November. According to WHO, more than 2,600 health care workers in eight of that country’s high-risk districts have been immunized. WHO reported that Rwanda also is planning to vaccinate front-line workers.
As of Jan. 26, the DRC health ministry said there have been 733 probable or confirmed cases and 459 deaths during the country’s 10th Ebola outbreak, which is occurring in two northeast provinces.
“It is absolutely vital that we are prepared for any potential case of Ebola spreading beyond the Democratic Republic of the Congo,” Matshidiso Moeti, MBBS, MSc, WHO regional director for Africa, said in a news release. “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.”
With help from WHO, UNICEF, the CDC and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, the South Sudan health ministry began vaccinations in Yambio, Gbudue State, on Jan. 24, according to WHO. The agency said health care workers in other high-risk areas bordering the DRC, including Tombura, Yei, Nimule and the capital of Juba, also will be offered the vaccine.
Merck has dispatched 2,160 doses of the vaccine to South Sudan, according to WHO. The vaccine protects against the Zaire strain of the Ebola virus, which is currently circulating in DRC.
WHO said it has sent more than 30 staff members to train health care workers on clinical practice principles and protocol procedures for administering the unlicensed vaccine. Meanwhile, the South Sudan health ministry has established 17 screening points to better detect potentially infected travelers entering the country. Nearly 1 million people have been screened so far, according to the release.
Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, has helped provide access to the Ebola vaccine stockpile and has given $2 million to support vaccination in countries that neighbor the DRC, according to the release.
“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,” Gavi CEO Seth Berkley, MD, said in the release. “Vaccinating front-line workers and health workers in South Sudan border regions will be crucial: an outbreak in South Sudan would be deeply concerning.”
DRC Ministry of Health. Epidemiological situation in the provinces of North Kivu and Ituri. https://mailchi.mp/sante.gouv.cd/ebola_kivu_26jan19?e=d255279a0d. Accessed January 28, 2019.
WHO. South Sudan vaccinates health workers against Ebola. http://www.afro.who.int/news/south-sudan-vaccinates-health-workers-against-ebola?country=876&name=South%20Sudan. Accessed January 28, 2019.
Disclosures: Berkley is CEO of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance. Moeti is employed by WHO.