Following the deaths of more than 400 people, the United Nations (UN) is to embark on one of the largest emergency vaccination campaigns ever in Africa in the fight against yellow fever.
Thousands of others have contracted the illness.
Working in coordination with the Angolan and Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) health ministries, William Perea, coordinator for the Control of Epidemic Diseases Unit of the World Health Organisation (WHO) said in a Tuesday press statement that protecting as many people as possible was at the heart of this strategy.
“With a limited supply, we need to use these vaccines very carefully,” said Perea.
While emergency yellow fever inoculations have been crucial in stemming the outbreak – reaching more than 13 million people in Angola and three million in the DRC – preventative vaccination campaigns are planned for high-risk areas, including the DRC capital of Kinshasa and the country’s 2 646 km border with Angola.
WHO is coordinating 56 global partners in more than 8 000 locations.
The yellow fever outbreak has found its way to dense, urban areas and hard-to-reach border regions, making planning for the vaccination campaign especially complex.
These preventive campaigns aim to protect high-risk populations and avert the potential spread and expansion of the current outbreak.
Kinshasa has more than 10 million people, with only two million already vaccinated against yellow fever.
With local transmission of the virus and low immunity in the population, there is a potential risk that the deadly outbreak could spread to other urban areas.
Amid limited vaccination supplies and only a six-month minimum manufacturing process, WHO has been working with the health ministries to plan the campaign using one-fifth of the standard vaccine dose, known as fractional dosing, as a short- erm emergency measure to reach as many people as possible.
Fractional dosing was recommended by WHO’s Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunisation after it reviewed existing evidence that demonstrated lower doses would protect people safely and effectively against the disease for at least 12 months, and likely much longer.
While the fractional dose prohibits international travel, it protects people from yellow fever during the outbreak and contains the disease from spreading further.
In the mass vaccination campaign, WHO has been working closely with its partners – the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Médecins sans Frontières (MSF) and the International Federation of the Red Cross (IFRC) – on complex campaign planning and logistics.
Since January, the Global Alliance for Vaccines has already enabled these countries to access almost 19 million doses of the vaccine and continues to provide strong support to the upcoming campaigns.
– African News Agency (ANA)