Contaminated vaccines kill 15 South Sudan children

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A child being vaccinated in South Sudan

Contaminated vaccines in a rural village in South Sudan killed 15 children last month and endangered dozens more, according to a statement from the World Health Organization, Unicef and the health ministry of South Sudan.

In the remote village of Nachodokopele in southeastern South Sudan, the same syringe was used on multiple people for four days straight. The vaccines were not stored in a cool place, as they should have been, the statement said.

And children were recruited to help organize the efforts; one even administered injections, the W.H.O. representative to South Sudan, Dr. Abdulmumini Usman, said in a phone interview.

The vaccination campaign, which was officially run by South Sudan’s government and supported by the W.H.O. and Unicef, lasted for four days, and about 300 people in the village were inoculated. The children who died were all injected on the same day and from the same vial, Dr. Usman said.

The fatalities, he added, resulted mostly from the mistakes of a single vaccine administrator working in the village. The statement said the children died of severe sepsis or toxicity.

In addition to the 15 children who died, 32 more became ill with symptoms including fever, diarrhea and vomiting.

“This tragic event could have been prevented by adhering to W.H.O. immunization safety standards,” said the statement, adding that “the team that vaccinated the children in this tragic event were neither qualified nor trained for the immunization campaign.”

People who administer vaccines in villages are trained by county-level health departments, which in turn report to South Sudan’s national health ministry. The W.H.O. and other aid organizations support the county departments but do not always interact with the people administering the injections at the village level, according to Dr. Usman.

A government spokesman referred questions about the deaths to the health ministry, where a representative did not respond to multiple phone calls seeking comment on Friday.

Amid a brutal civil war that has steered resources toward the war effort, South Sudan has had little capacity to carry out basic health initiatives like vaccination campaigns.

The war began in December 2013, when a clash between political leaders, followed by the targeted ethnic killings in the capital city of Juba, led to deadly conflicts across the country, especially in the north and east.

Source: New York Times