The charity said the vaccination will safeguard women and girls of reproductive age, who are at greatest risk of death from the disease. It intends to have fully vaccinated 12,776 women and girls between the ages of 16 and 45 by June when the vaccination campaign is complete.
"In addition to the vaccination campaign, we are carrying out case management and referrals at the MSF hospital, and conducting community awareness campaigns and epidemiological monitoring," it said in a statement issued in Juba, the capital of South Sudan.
According to MSF, some 501 cases of hepatitis E have been treated at the MSF hospital in Old Fangak, Jonglei state, and 21 people have died, mainly women since April 2023.
It said the fatality can be as high as 40 percent for pregnant women, and there is no cure, meaning that many people with advanced stages of illness do not survive.
MSF said its vaccination campaign is the first to be conducted during the acute stages of an active hepatitis E outbreak anywhere in the world. "It is made more challenging by the remoteness and isolation of the area of South Sudan where it is taking place. But if the campaign succeeds, it will save lives," it said.
Every year, hepatitis E causes 20 million infections and 70,000 deaths worldwide.
The limited availability of the vaccine, its high cost and the difficulty to transport and store it pose significant challenges, especially in hard-to-reach areas like South Sudan.#WorldNTDDaypic.twitter.com/ODmYUDM46H
According to Mamman Mustapha, MSF's head of mission in South Sudan, hepatitis E is a waterborne disease that can be fatal. Mustapha said around 20 million people become infected every year, and of these, 3 million people experience symptoms that require treatment.
"However, not everyone can access treatment in time, especially in countries with limited health facilities like South Sudan. Even if people do eventually manage to get to a hospital, it is often too late. There is no cure for hepatitis E and sadly, 70,000 people die from the disease each year. This is why the vaccine is so important -- it can save lives," he added.
The charity said the latest campaign in Fangak County, situated in an extremely remote part of northern South Sudan, builds on the experience in Bentiu, but the context is vastly different. MSF said people in Fangak County were facing many challenges even before hepatitis E began to claim people's lives.