The largest-ever mass vaccination campaign protecting populations from the dangerously infectious yellow fever disease will begin next week across three West African countries, the United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) announced today.
The week-long UN-supported initiative is slated to target nearly 12 million people across Benin, Liberia and Sierra Leone, all countries at high risk of yellow fever outbreaks.
Local health teams will administer the vaccinations, as well as offer a package of pre-emptive measures, 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 WHO Epidemic Readiness and Intervention Unit Coordinator William Perea.
A single dose of the vaccine offers full protection, " noted Dr. Perea, adding that he hoped the vaccination campaigns would be carried out throughout all high risk African countries by 2015.
With help from a $103 million donation from the GAVI Alliance " a vaccine-financing partnership that includes WHO, the UN Children`s Fund (UNICEF), the World Bank and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation " a total of 29 million people have been protected through mass vaccinations programmes since 2007 conducted in Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Mali, Senegal and Togo, as well as a first phase completed in Sierra Leone.
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 the Director of WHO`s Department of Immunization, Vaccines and Biologicals, Jean-Marie Okwo-Bele.
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, added Dr. Okwo-Bele.
Yellow fever is reappearing in countries that have not reported cases in many years, " said Fenella Avokey, WHO African Regional Office Medical Officer for Yellow Fever Control.
We must finish the job we started to sustain the gains achieved so far, " said UNICEF Senior Health Specialist Edward Hoekstra. 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. "
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.