Reflections on an Oral Cholera Vaccine Campaign in War-Torn South Sudan

Ella Glass, RN

Health Manager - Emergency Response Team, South Sudan | Medair
A child receives oral cholera vaccine in South Sudan. Photo: Ella Glass, Courtesy of Medair (2017)

A child receives oral cholera vaccine in South Sudan. Photo: Ella Glass, Courtesy of Medair (2017)

Ella Glass reflects on her experience conducting a mass cholera vaccination campaign alongside a World Food Programme headcount in a difficult-to-access area in South Sudan.

At dawn on the headcount day, as the teams crossed the vast field carrying supplies for the day ahead, the sun was just rising on the horizon. It was a beautiful large orange glowing ball, casting out a soft golden glow as far as my eye could see. Women we had hired to carry items were walking in front of me, effortlessly balancing 20kg boxes of vaccines and tables on their heads as they walked barefoot across the dusty, scorched earth. Looking up from the ground, in front of us were thousands upon thousands of men, women, and children, having camped out overnight to be earlier in the queues. It was really quite astonishing. The overwhelming incredible needs of this population were staring me right in the face and I could feel a small lump at the back of my throat.

A child receives services in South Sudan. Photo: Ella Glass, Courtesy of Medair (2017)

A child receives services in South Sudan. Photo: Ella Glass, Courtesy of Medair (2017)

As the team came nearer to the crowds, the noise of the crowds increased with each step. As we began to demarcate the area and set up tables and chairs, I saw out of the corner of my eye an elderly barefoot man with a walking cane making his way up to me. He had a small smile on his face and his eyes were sparkling. He clasped my hands in his large, wrinkled hands that no doubt have seen many years of hardship and toil, and shook them vigorously. He then began saying something quietly to me. I asked one of the local staff to translate what he was saying, and this was it: “Thank you for coming to help us. You are bringing medicine to us which we desperately need. Not many people come here anymore to help us and we have felt forgotten. But you have come. Thank you.” As he turned away, that lump reappeared at the back of my throat. I have never before felt so humbled. Throughout the chaos of that day, when the crowds never seemed to reduce in size, when the heat of the sun was almost unbearable, when the deafening noise of children crying never seemed to stop, that first brief encounter with the elderly man came back to me every single time. Bringing hope and life to people that feel forgotten is surely what it’s all for.

Read more about Medair’s mass vaccination campaign in South Sudan in the Field Story, South Sudan: Mass Vaccination Alongside a World Food Programme Headcount

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