For more than two decades, the private sector in the Sudan (henceforth, Sudan), including non-governmental organizations and for-profit providers, has played a key role in delivering immunization services, especially in the conflict-affected Darfur region and the most populated Khartoum state.
The agreements that the providers enter into with state governments necessitate that they are licensed; follow the national immunization policy and reporting and supervision requirements; use the vaccines supplied by government; and offer vaccinations free-of-charge. These private providers are well integrated into the states’ immunization programs as they take part in the Ministry of Health immunization trainings and district review meetings and they are incorporated into annual district immunization microplans.
The purpose of this article is to describe the private sector contributions to equitable access to immunization services and coverage, as well as key challenges, lessons learned and future considerations. Fifty-five per cent of private health facilities in Sudan (411 out of 752) provide immunization services, with 75% (307 out of 411) based in Khartoum state and the Darfur region. In 2017, private providers administered around 16% of all third doses of pentavalent (diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus, hepatitis B and Haemophilus influenzae type b) vaccines to children. Private health providers of immunization services have especially been critical in filling the gaps in government services in hard-to-reach or conflict-affected areas and among marginalized populations, and thus in reducing inequities in access.
Through its experience in engaging the private sector, Sudan has learned the importance of regulating and licensing private facilities and incorporating them into the immunization program’s decision-making, planning, regular evaluation and supervision system to ensure their compliance with immunization guidelines and the overall quality of services. In moving forward, strategic engagement with the private sector will become more prominent as Sudan transitions out of donors’ financial assistance with its projected income growth.