South Sudan on Thursday received its first batch of coronavirus vaccines, with 132,000 AstraZeneca doses delivered through a global initiative to ensure lower-income countries receive jabs.
Health Minister Elizabeth Achuei said the shipment was the first of some 800,000 doses South Sudan expects to receive in the first six months of this year through Covax, the vaccine-sharing partnership.
The jabs arrived with 132,500 syringes and 1,325 boxes for the safe disposal of needles.
Vaccinations will begin next week with frontline workers such as doctors and nurses, and vulnerable groups such as the elderly, to be first in line to get the jabs.
“I am a happy woman today, and I really thank God that we have received the Covid-19 vaccine for our people today,” said Achuei.
“The Covid-19 vaccine will help us to protect our population against Covid-19 infection and prepare a return to normal life.”
South Sudan has recorded nearly 10,000 cases of coronavirus and 107 deaths, but has carried out only 127,627 tests.
It plans to procure five million vaccines, enough to eventually innoculate 20 percent of its estimated 12 million people from the disease.
Vaccination will be voluntary and free of charge.
In Geneva on Thursday, the vaccine alliance Gavi, which co-leads Covax, said deliveries to poorer countries would be delayed by problems in gaining permission to export further doses from a manufacturer in India.
South Sudan is the world’s youngest country, achieving independence in 2011 from Sudan, its larger, Muslim-majority neighbour to the north.
Two years later, South Sudan plunged into civil war that left 400,000 people dead. A ceasefire paused the bloodshed in 2018 but the central government remains weak and large parts of the country are wracked by armed conflict and lawlessness.
The UN humanitarian agency OCHA said Wednesday that South Sudan is enduring its worst hunger crisis since independence, with roughly 450,000 people in six emergency-hit counties classified as a step from famine.