Geneva / New York, 17 November 2009 – The largest-ever yellow fever mass vaccination campaign is set to kick off next week across three African countries. The week-long event will target 11.9 million people across Benin, Liberia and Sierra Leone, all three of which are at high risk of yellow fever outbreaks.
The campaign - supported by the World Health Organisation (WHO), UNICEF, national Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, Médecins sans Frontières and other partners - is the first in which yellow fever vaccination drives will be simultaneously launched across several countries. The drives will be administered by local health teams and will also offer a package of interventions, including vitamin A, deworming tablets and, in Sierra Leone, measles vaccine.
”High vaccination coverage will prevent outbreaks of yellow fever, a disease that is very difficult to diagnose in the early stages of infection,’’ said Dr William Perea, Coordinator of WHO Epidemic Readiness and Intervention unit. “A single dose of the vaccine offers full protection.” Dr Perea expressed hope that vaccination campaigns would be carried out throughout all high risk African countries by 2015.
Benin, Liberia and Sierra Leone are the latest 3 of the 13 highest risk African countries for which the GAVI Alliance has committed funding to carry out preventive campaigns. Since 2007, a total of 29 million people have been protected through mass vaccinations conducted in Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Mali, Senegal and Togo, as well as a first phase completed in Sierra Leone.
A catalytic contribution of $103 million from the GAVI Alliance for 2007 to 2010 resulted in tremendous gains in the fight against yellow fever, helping to establish the vaccine stockpile, fund vaccine and operational costs of vaccination, conduct surveillance and risk assessment to identify high-risk populations, and strengthen vaccine safety monitoring.
Vaccination against yellow fever early in life is also a crucial strategy in affected countries. "Thirty-seven countries in Africa and the Americas have introduced yellow fever vaccine in their routine childhood immunization schedule, up from 12 countries a decade ago", said Dr Jean-Marie Okwo-Bele, Director of the Department of Immunization, Vaccines and Biologicals at WHO.
However, 160 million people could still be at risk in Africa if further funding is not secured for the emergency stockpile and preventive vaccination in remaining high-risk countries. "Yellow fever is reappearing in countries that have not reported cases in many years," said Dr Fenella Avokey, Medical Officer for Yellow Fever Control, of the WHO African Regional Office.
"We must finish the job we started to sustain the gains achieved so far," said Dr Edward Hoekstra, UNICEF Senior Health Specialist. "Children and adults in West and Central Africa are unnecessarily affected by yellow fever, when one dose of vaccine would prevent them getting the disease at all."
About the yellow fever initiative
The Yellow Fever Initiative is a partnership working to prevent yellow fever epidemics across Africa and Latin America through preventive vaccination and emergency response. The initiative is a joint collaboration of WHO and UNICEF, with the participation of National Governments and non-government organizations, supported by GAVI and other partners.
The 13 highest-risk countries in Africa are Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Côte d'Ivoire, Ghana, Guinea, Liberia, Mali, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone and Togo
For more information please contact:
Aphaluck Bhatiasevi, WHO Media Officer, Geneva,
Tel + 41 79 484 2997,
Christian Moen, UNICEF Media, New York,
Tel +1 212 326 7516,