South Sudan: Innovative monitoring support

When the wild polio virus returned to neighbouring countries of Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia in 2013, the South Sudanese Ministry of Health recognized that the virus could potentially spread to South Sudan. After an initial outbreak scare that was later retracted, the government proactively launched a vaccination campaign that aimed to immunize more than 500,000 children in the west, central and eastern Equatoria states. The South Sudan Red Cross, as a member of the Ministry’s National Polio Task Force, was called on to mobilize communities at risk in remote areas, and monitor the coverage of the campaign.

“I would not have known of the dangers of polio if the volunteers did not visit my home. I had heard about polio but not about how it affects children”, says Rose Mande, a mother of two who lives in Lainya County. “I encouraged other mothers to keep their children at home during the polio vaccination campaign so that they too could be immunized”. It is small incidences such as this that sow the seeds for community awareness that eventually makes the prevention of polio transmission possible.

The South Sudan Red Cross embarked on a social mobilization and mapping campaign during the first two national rounds of emergency immunization. Over the course of three months, volunteers visited more than 250,000 households, sharing information about the risks of polio and the benefits of vaccination. Simultaneously, Red Cross supervisors conducted household surveys to map immunization coverage and identify areas not included in prior campaigns. A total of 4,415 children under-five, 2,850 households and 56 payams (the second lowest administrative entity in South Sudan) were included in this mapping exercise.

Data is the foundation for decision-making, especially when dealing with health issues in complex settings. Technology development today offers us new means of data collection, analysis and visualization while improving overall quality and efficiency and reducing costs.

Data on people reached (and missed) was collected on pre-programmed mobile phones and transferred to a database by a trained supervisor. This data was then shared with government health authorities, detailing the exact location of missed households using GPS, and indicating the number of children that still needed to be vaccinated. Using this method of data collection, health workers were able to determine the overall immunization coverage prior to the campaign, and that children were more likely to be vaccinated if the families had prior knowledge of the campaign. Data is not only essential to monitoring the success of the campaign but also helps inform the planning for future rounds of vaccinations.

Supporting health and community systems is integral to ensuring universal health coverage. Together with its National Societies, the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies is exploring innovative approaches to designing and using flexible, easy-to-use, low cost surveys that is consequently facilitating decision-making, leading to improved immunization coverage.

Building on evidence-base is helping in addressing health inequities and contributing to creating safer, healthy and resilient communities.

Eradicating polio is our collective responsibility. Only by investing in long-term community initiatives, we will be able to achieve a polio free Africa. Read more on