“When schools were closed and the COVID-19 pandemic was impacted people, I sang about how dangerous the virus is to create awareness in the community’, says 19-year old composer and singer Peter Phillip popularly known as Boli.
The local artist was among those who got vaccinated as soon as it was announced. Phillip thanked the State Ministry of Health (SMOH) and World Vision for bringing the vaccines to Ibba County closer to the communities.
Ibba County is one of the 10 counties of South Sudan’s Western Equatoria State. The state shares border with the Central Africa Republic (CAR) and Democratic Republic of Congo DRC) and has an estimated population of 69,109 people and administratively subdivided into Ibba, Madebe, Manikakara, Nabanga and Maruko payams (a sub-division).
The South Sudan Ministry of Health first introduced the COVID-19 vaccination in April 2021 mainly targeting high-risk groups in 35 counties and 101 sites using AstraZeneca. Ibba County is among the 45 counties missed in the first and second phases of the vaccination rollout.
With funding from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), World Vision’s, CORE Group Polio Project, in partnership with the SMoH, has scaled up the vaccination campaign to 24 counties in Eastern, Central and Western Equatoria States.
The campaign is focused on those that were not included in the first and second phases of and in hard to reach areas. The efforts were slowed down by the people’s hesitancy and fear of the vaccine’s effect on their health. It was also compounded by the the hospitalization of school children in Ibba County after a deworming activity.
To address the misinformation, World Vision and SMOH organized a one-day event, “Get vaccinated against COVID-19; the vaccine is free, safe and effective” that also served as the launch for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
A total of 450 people including government officials, the armed forces, local and church leaders, organizations, SMOH officials and community people attended the event graced by the Honorable Elisama Charles Babua, the county commissioner.
Many people died during the pandemic. It is important for us to get vaccinated. The vaccine is voluntary, but I encourage everyone to think and decide for your own good.
Police Inspector Lt Col. Nagib Zakaria lamented that the vaccines did not reach Ibba in the first and second phases. “We interact a lot with people coming from CAR and DRC in the local markets, schools and other public places, putting us at high risk.”
Lt. Col Zakaria adds, “Many people have died during the pandemic and it is important for us to get vaccinated. The vaccine is voluntary, but I encourage everyone to think and decide for your own good.” He encouraged World Vision to reach-out to the remotest parts of the county with information on the importance of vaccination.
Dr. Sangala John, who spoke on behalf of the SMOH Director General said the ministry has done its best to bring the vaccines closer. “It is now up to the leaders and the people of Ibba to do their part. The vaccine is free, safe and effective’’, he says.
“Any person above 18 years of age and particularly those with other chronic health conditions such as diabetes, HIV/AIDS and heart disease should be vaccinated. I encourage pregnant or breastfeeding mothers to be vaccinated. The vaccine has no ill effects on your pregnancy and the babies”, Dr. Sangala adds.
Lordship Bishop Wilson Kamani, Bishop of the Episcopal Church of South Sudan, Diocese of Ibba, was among the first of the church leaders to take the Johnson & Johnson vaccine during the launch. Bishop Kamani encouraged everyone who were eligible to take the vaccine.
“I got vaccinated. Let the people see the example from me and decide. The vaccine is safe. If it was not for the deworming tablets incident, many people would have done the vaccination", he says. According to the Ministry of Health, 153,456 people have received the COVID-19 vaccine in South Sudan. The data shows that 31 percent were women.
Dr. Rumbe Samuel, the CORE Group Deputy Project Director, explained that the low vaccination coverage is due to the limited vaccine supply and inequitable distribution during the first and second phases of the rollout
“The first and second phases targeted the high-risk groups such as health workers and those with underlying health conditions. The arrival of J&J vaccines enabled the scale up to 80 counties targeting high-risk and hard-to-reach areas”, Dr. Samuel adds.
Cover photo: (From left) Chief Police Inspector Lt Col. Nagib Zakaria Jambo, Hon. Commissioner Elisama Charles Babua, Lord Bishop William Khamani and World Vision Zonal Program Manager for Western Equatoria Simanga Ndebele.
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Story and photos by Jemima Tumalu, Communications Officer