February 19, 2008 / 7:06 PM / 12 years ago

Paraguayans demonstrate for yellow fever vaccines

ASUNCION, Feb 19 (Reuters) - Thousands of Paraguayans blocked highways and banged on the doors of health centers on Tuesday, demanding vaccines after four people died in the first outbreak of yellow fever in 30 years in this South American nation.

The first cases of the disease, which is spread by mosquito bites, were confirmed in early February and Paraguayans have become increasingly concerned as more possible cases have been reported near the capital, Asuncion.

An outbreak of yellow fever has killed at least 13 people in neighboring Brazil since December and health authorities in northern Argentina are also on alert after reports of a possible outbreak in monkeys.

Paraguay declared a state of emergency last week and health workers have given more than 200,000 vaccinations in high risk areas in recent days. But demand is soaring in this country of 5.6 million people.

Hundreds of protesters tried to hammer down the door of a health center in Luque, a suburb of Asuncion that is considered high risk for yellow fever.

"We want vaccines," they shouted as police in riot gear protected the building.

In Villa Elisa, another city close to Asuncion, residents blocked a highway and burned tires.

"I want people to calm down. We are going to continue vaccinating," Health and Public Well Being Minister Oscar Martinez Doldan said at a news conference.

The minister said that of seven suspected yellow fever deaths, three were determined to have died of other causes. Another six people have been confirmed ill with yellow fever and another 33 cases are possible.

Brazil and Peru supplied Paraguay with almost a million vaccines and another 100,000 are expected to arrive from Venezuela plus 400,000 from the Panamerican Health Organization, the government said.

"The president should come line up with us and see how he feels. We’ve been waiting for hours in the sun, surrounded by mosquitoes, and no vaccinations have come," a woman with a small child in her arms told Telefuturo television station.

The yellow fever scare comes a year after 17 people died of a dengue outbreak in Paraguay. Some 28,000 people got dengue, also a mosquito-borne illness, last year. (Reporting by Daniela Desantis; writing by Fiona Ortiz, editing by Alan Elsner)

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