July 20, 2016 / 2:10 PM / 3 years ago

Democratic Republic of Congo launches yellow fever vaccination drive

KINSHASA (Reuters) - Democratic Republic of Congo launched a campaign on Wednesday to vaccinate about a million people against yellow fever over the next 10 days in the capital Kinshasa and a nearby province.

A Congolese child is vaccinated during an emergency campaign of vaccination against yellow fever in Kisenso district, of the Democratic Republic of Congo's capital Kinshasa, July 20, 2016. REUTERS/Kenny Katombe

A wider campaign to vaccinate more than 10 million people in the city and along the border with Angola will have to wait at least two more weeks, however, due to shortages of vaccine and syringes.

“Now I am armored. Now I have the blood of a soldier,” said Claudy Pindi, who is in his forties, holding up his yellow vaccination card.

Pindi was among the first to be vaccinated in Kinshasa’s Kisenso district, where four people are suspected of having died from yellow fever.

Congo’s health minister declared a yellow fever epidemic last month after the hemorrhagic virus spread from Angola, where 350 people have died since last December in the worst outbreak in decades.

Congo had registered 1,798 suspected cases of yellow fever as of July 11, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), including 85 deaths believed caused by the disease.

Only 68 cases have been laboratory confirmed however, due to a technical problem over the last three weeks that hindered the shipping of a chemical used in testing.

Over 100 people queued to be vaccinated on Wednesday under tents set up by health workers on a soccer pitch in Kisenso. Authorities have identified around 80 suspected cases of yellow fever there.

Residents of three health zones in Kwango province, which abuts the Angolan border, will also be vaccinated during the campaign.

“We are very sure we will stop the spread of the virus,” said Gedeon Siama, supervising nurse for the Kisenso health zone. “At the community level, the monitoring is very active.”

The vaccination drive is the second this year after more than two million people were vaccinated in Kinshasa and Kongo Central province in late May.

Health officials have also expressed concerns about beginning with such a targeted approach in Kinshasa, a chaotic megacity of some 12 million people.

During the last vaccination drive in May, people arrived from outside targeted areas, preventing some local residents from being vaccinated and provoking violence outside some health centers.

Eugene Kabambi, a WHO spokesman in Kinshasa, said authorities were using community leaders and street campaigners with megaphones to promote the current drive.

“We’ve avoided a strong publicity campaign. We’ve focused on word of mouth communication,” he said.

The yellow fever vaccine takes one year to manufacture and there currently exist just 8 million doses in the world after stocks were depleted in series of outbreaks earlier this year.

Congo expects to begin receiving more vaccine next month from a laboratory in Brazil and health officials will administer only partial doses in some areas to provide immunity of up to a year in order to most effectively use limited stocks.

(This version of the story corrects number of reported deaths in sixth paragraph)

Reporting by Aaron Ross; Editing by Joe Bavier/Jeremy Gaunt

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