Juba, 25 July 2022 (TDI): Health workers in South Sudan conducted the world’s first vaccination campaign in response to the Hepatitis E outbreak.

Medical Director of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), Dr. Monica Rull, said, “With the experience of this vaccination campaign, we hope to change the way we tackle hepatitis E in the future”

A breakthrough response to an outbreak of Hepatitis E in South Sudan is raising hopes in the fight against the disease.

Acute viral hepatitis is most frequently caused by hepatitis E, which is responsible for 20 million infections and 44,000 deaths annually. It spreads by contaminating food and water with feces. Hepatitis E has a death rate of up to 25% among pregnant women and has no particular treatment.

Large-scale infections frequently happen in places with poor water and sanitization, such as camps for displaced people.

Extreme floods and the new influx of displaced people in 2021 aggravated the already terrible living conditions in South Sudan. It accelerated the spread of waterborne diseases such as hepatitis E.

Since July, MSF has reported 759 patients with hepatitis E.

The vaccination campaign in South Sudan

The South Sudan Ministry of Health asked for help from MSF in its attempts to limit the outbreak through a vaccination campaign.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has advised that Hecolin has been used a hepatitis E vaccine since 2015. Clinical trials have demonstrated Hecolin’s excellent efficacy in preventing disease.

The largest displaced persons camp in South Sudan is located in Bentiu, which was established in 2014 during the war. Hepatitis E infections have been occurring in Bentiu since 2015. MSF has operated since the establishment of the camp.

MSF and South Sudan’s Ministry of Health collaborated to carry out the first two rounds of the hepatitis E vaccination campaign in the Bentiu camp of displaced people in March and April 2022.

Pregnant women are among the approximately 25,000 people who have gotten the vaccination. In October 2022, the third and final round will take place.

Dr. Monica Rull said, “The fight against hepatitis E has been long and frustrating. Over the last two decades, MSF has been responding to hepatitis E outbreaks in displacement camps, trying to control the disease in challenging conditions, and seeing the devastating impact on extremely vulnerable communities.”

Dr John Rumunu, Director General for Preventive Health Services of the South Sudan Ministry of Health, said, “Given the successful implementation and the community’s enthusiastic response in the first two rounds, this innovative vaccination campaign can serve as an example and be replicated in similar settings managing hepatitis E outbreaks. I hope the vaccine will help reduce infections and deaths from hepatitis E in Bentiu and beyond”