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More than 120 million West Africans at risk of yellow fever, UN agencies warn

More than 120 million West Africans at risk of yellow fever, UN agencies warn

Mosquitoes, such as those that carry yellow fever, breed in stagnant water
A persistent budget shortfall means that more than 120 million people in Nigeria and Ghana could remain at risk of contacting yellow fever if not reached with vaccinations, United Nations agencies and their partners cautioned today.

Funding shortages are threatening the global supply of the immunization, which means the two West African nations could be left off the list for upcoming campaigns, according to the International Coordinating Group (ICG) on Yellow Fever Vaccine Provision, of which the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and World Health Organization (WHO) are members.

Over the past three years, campaigns across the region have protected 61 million people from yellow fever, which is caused by a virus transmitted by mosquitoes.

The disease is endemic in forest areas and people are at greatest risk at the end of the rainy season. According to WHO, an estimated 200,000 cases and 30,000 deaths occur each year.

Although the capacity to produce the yellow fever vaccine has tripled in the last decade so that up to 90 million doses can now be made per year, the lack of funding will likely lead to the reallocation of available supplies and slow down production.

The ICG appealed for resources to maintain the global stockpile to respond to outbreaks and reach an extra 120 million people at risk. Vaccine manufactures have indicated they are willing to scale-up production, provided there is a commitment to purchase the vaccines.

“We call upon international donors and our country partners to continue efforts to support yellow fever control activities and protect people’s lives,” said Edward Hoekstra, Senior Health Specialist at UNICEF.

Nearly 50 million people have been immunized in West Africa, with 14 million people protected through a global emergency response since 2007.

The ICG said that an immunization campaign is under way in Guinea, targeting a population of 6.2 million people. It also aims to reach 15 million people in Côte d’Ivoire later this year.

However, funding has not been secured for mass campaigns for 2011.

The ICG also includes Médecins Sans Frontières and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.