The largest Yellow Fever epidemic for decades is now sweeping the Democratic Republic of Congo and Angola and could soon spread to the Americas, Asia and Europe, Save the Children is warning.
The charity’s rapid reaction Emergency Health Unit (EHU) has deployed to support the Ministry of Health with a mass vaccination campaign in the Congolese capital of Kinshasa.
The campaign, which begins Wednesday, is part of a last line of defense to stop the deadly virus spreading through the overcrowded city of more than 10 million.
The outbreak is the largest to hit the region for 30 years and has all but emptied global emergency stocks of vaccine. There are only seven million emergency vaccines available for this campaign – too few to even fully cover Kinshasa, let alone the whole of the DRC.
The virus is a hemorrhagic fever and has so far claimed nearly 500 lives, with thousands of suspected cases. Alarmingly, the World Health Organisation warns those figures could be as many as ten to 50 times higher.
Yellow Fever is spread by mosquitos, making rapid transmission in a hot, humid city like Kinshasa very likely, particularly when the rainy season starts next month and mosquito numbers spike.
Heather Kerr, Save the Children’s Country Director for the DRC, said:
“There is no known cure for Yellow Fever and it could go global. The mass vaccination campaign in Kinshasa needs to take place now so that we can try and stop Yellow Fever spreading by land and air to more cities in Africa and across the world.”
Save the Children’s 11-member rapid deployment EHU is staffed by experts from countries including Italy, China, Korea and the USA.
They will support a vaccination campaign run by the DRC’s Ministry of Health, targeting nearly half a million people in Binza Ozone Health Zone in the capital of Kinshasa for about ten days from Wednesday (August 17).
Experts will also be helping in providing technical support to Ministry of Health staff, securing the country’s ‘cold chain’: shuttling scarce supplies of vaccine to the vaccination sites while keeping them cold using a network of freezers and cool boxes. The EHU experts will also treat the medical waste of the Campaign.
The same team successfully supported the Ministry of Health in vaccinating 221,365 people in the town of Boma in western DRC in May.
Following advice from the WHO, Save the Children will be providing support for the vaccination campaign that uses just one fifth of a regular dose – to reach as many children and families as possible with the limited supplies that remain.
A full dose of vaccine provides lifetime immunity; the smaller, so-called ‘fractionalised’ dose provides stop-gap immunity for about a year.
“We’ve got to urgently reach as many children and families as we can with the supplies that are left, and this is the only way we are able to do that right now. We can only hope this will be enough to stop the epidemic spreading any further,” Heather Kerr added.
In this outbreak, about 20 percent of people who have caught Yellow Fever have died. The final stages can cause bleeding from the eyes, ears and nose, organ failure and a condition known as jaundice, a yellowing of skin and eyes which originally gave the disease its name.