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15 children die in South Sudan during botched measles vaccination campaign

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The Associated Press reported a measles vaccination campaign in South Sudan has resulted in the death of 15 children as reports said children as young as 12 years old administered the vaccine, South Sudan’s government announced Friday.

Reports, quoting the United Nations, said the children died of “severe sepsis/toxicity” from the contaminated vaccine while the health ministry blamed the deaths on human error. Reports also say one syringe was used for all the children during the four-day campaign, and the vaccine was stored without refrigeration the entire time.

Measles is yet another challenge facing the East African country already devastated by more than three years of civil war and a recently declared famine, as well as a cholera outbreak, the AP reported.

The government reported all of the dead children were younger than 5. It is setting up a commission to determine who is responsible, the report said, and whether victims’ families will be compensated.

The vaccination campaign is targeting more than 2 million children across the country, the report said. About 300 children were targeted in the area where the children’s deaths occurred.

The children died in the rural town of Kapoeta in early May, the AP reported. In addition, 32 children suffered fever, vomiting and diarrhea but recovered, a joint statement by the World Health Organization and the U.N. children’s agency UNICEF said.

Abdulmumini Usman, the South Sudan country director for the World Health Organization, told The Associated Press earlier this week even after the organization became aware of the deaths, the measles campaign continued across the country – except in Kapoeta.

“This campaign is lifesaving,” Usman said.

WHO provides some training to South Sudan’s health officials and the U.N. children’s agency provides the vaccines to the government, the report said. It was not immediately clear whether any U.N. officials were present at the time of the botched vaccinations.

The joint statement by WHO and UNICEF said the vaccination team involved in the deaths was “neither qualified nor trained.” It called the deaths a “tragic event,” the report said.

Dr. Samson Baba, an immunization official in the ministry of health, refused to comment on the deaths earlier this week, instead demanding the source of the information, the report said.

South Sudan’s government on Friday also said vaccinations are not being denied to any part of the country, including those held by opposition forces.

The civil war has killed tens of thousands and sent more than 1.8 million people fleeing the country, creating the world’s fastest-growing refugee crisis.

In 2016, the AP reported, South Sudan had at least 2,294 measles cases and 28 people died, according to U.N. data. So far this year, at least one person has died and 665 people have been infected.

Friday’s U.N. statement said the risk of measles in the country remains “extremely high,” the report said., Jack Durschlag

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