Juba, 14 October 2021 – a team of technical officers in the National Public Health Laboratory have been trained over the last week, aiming at building their capacity to contribute to controlling yellow fever outbreaks.
South Sudan lies in the yellow fever belt and has reported 187 cases including 27 deaths reported in three separate outbreaks in 2003, 2018, and 2020. Moreover, in the absence of preventive massive vaccination campaigns, the risk of outbreaks remains high in the country. Strengthening national capacities for case detection, investigation, and testing is critical for effective yellow fever control.
With support from Eliminate Yellow Fever Epidemics (EYE) partnership including WHO, GAVI, UNICEF, CDC, and other health implementing partners, the Ministry of Health has trained Technical Officers in the National Public Health Laboratory on yellow fever laboratory testing and confirmation.
“South Sudan will continue strengthening surveillance and response capacities for yellow fever and other diseases within the context of the integrated disease surveillance and response (IDSR) strategy. The strengthening of national yellow fever laboratory testing capacities will facilitate rapid confirmation and response to new outbreaks as required under the international health regulations (IHR (2005)”, said Dr John Rumunu, the Ministry of Health Director General Preventive Health Services.
A WHO-supported Ministry of Health joint external evaluation in 2017 showed that out of the 10 core laboratory tests countries are expected to perform, South Sudan was only able to perform five tests for HIV, tuberculosis, malaria, measles, and cholera. The South Sudan National Action Plan for Health Security (NAPHS) therefore includes laboratory capacity expansion as a core intervention.
The current efforts to enhance yellow fever testing capacities is aligned with national priorities for health security that have in the recent years seen the country acquire additional laboratory testing capacities for Ebola, Marburg, influenza, and COVID-19.
The WHO global yellow fever update showed that yellow fever transmission increased in 2020 with seven additional countries reporting yellow fever confirmed cases, the highest since 2009. These trends highlight the growing gaps in population immunity and hence the urgent need to strengthen implementation of the EYE strategy in high risk countries like South Sudan.
Dr Fabian Ndenzako, the South Sudan WHO Country Representative, acknowledged the EYE partners for their continued support towards strengthening national capacities to control and eliminate yellow fever. “Through the EYE partnership, WHO will continue supporting the Government of South Sudan to contain outbreaks rapidly, prevent international yellow fever spread, and ensure at risk populations are protected from yellow fever through vaccination”, said Dr Fabian Ndenzako.
The EYE strategy continues to be a key global coordination mechanism for optimizing yellow fever control. The objectives of the strategy entail protecting at-risk populations through vaccination, preventing international spread, and containing outbreaks rapidly.
As yellow fever high risk countries work towards improved yellow fever control guided by the EYE strategy, the risk of outbreaks remains high. Countries are advised to accelerate and optimize the implementation of the EYE strategy priorities, leveraging capacities in existing systems like the integrated disease surveillance and response (IDSR) to strengthen surveillance and response as well as strengthening coordination with national programs for routine immunization for other vaccine-preventable diseases. The IDSR strategy supports case-based surveillance, testing, and response to suspect and confirmed yellow fever cases.
Note to editors:
Yellow fever is a mosquito-borne acute viral hemorrhagic disease and has an incubation period of 3-6 days following infection. The infection can range from mild to severe.
Mild symptoms of yellow fever include fever, nausea, vomiting, headache, abdominal and muscle pains. More severe symptoms include hepatitis and hemorrhagic fever.
Vaccination is the primary means for prevention and control of yellow fever and a single dose of WHO approved yellow fever vaccine is sufficient to confer sustained immunity and life-long protection against yellow fever disease.
Dr Wamala Joseph Francis: wamalaj [at] who.int
Juma John Hassen Mogga: jmogga [at] who.int
Maurice DEMANOU: demanoum [at] who.int