Yellow fever initiative for West Africa launched at UN-backed health assembly
Thanks to the grant from the GAVI Alliance, a public-private partnership focused on increasing children’s access to vaccines in poor countries, the world’s 12 highest-risk countries will be able to implement comprehensive campaigns to immunize more than 48 million people, the UN World Health Organization (WHO) said.
“The Yellow Fever Initiative will be able to vaccinate at-risk populations and thus quickly reduce the risk of devastating outbreaks that could otherwise threaten the region and the world,” Mike Ryan, Director of the WHO Department of Epidemic and Pandemic Alert and Response said in Geneva, where the World Health Assembly is convened.
To prevent yellow fever infections from spreading into an epidemic, immunization coverage must be at least 60 to 80 per cent, according to WHO. Until now, though, the vaccine has often been too expensive in light of a host of competing health problems and coverage rates in some West African countries are critically low, the agency said.
In Nigeria, for example, the coverage rate in 2005 was estimated at 36 per cent.
Between the 1940s and 1960s, widespread mass vaccination campaigns in some African countries had resulted in the almost-complete disappearance of yellow fever, an acute viral disease transmitted by mosquitoes that may kill up to 50 per cent of those with severe cases, WHO said.
However, as immunization campaigns waned, a generation of people grew up with no immunity to the disease, and by the 1990s the number of annual cases had risen to an estimated 200,000 per year, with 30,000 deaths, and urban outbreaks were starting to occur.
“As we see more people moving to cities for work, but returning to their rural villages from time to time, we also see the possibility of Yellow Fever epidemics multiply,” said Sylvie Briand, Project Manager of the Yellow Fever Initiative in WHO.
Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Guinea, Liberia, Mali, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone and Togo are the countries covered by the initiative.