GENEVA (Reuters) - More than 48 million people in West Africa will be immunized for yellow fever over the next four years under a new vaccine programme announced on Wednesday by the public-private GAVI Alliance.
Mass vaccination campaigns from the 1940s to the 1960s nearly wiped out yellow fever in Africa, but a drop-off in immunizations caused a resurgence in the hemorrhagic disease that health experts fear could trigger epidemics in urban areas.
Yellow fever, whose symptoms can include fever, vomiting and bleeding from the mouth, nose and eyes, infects some 200,000 people a year, killing around 30,000, mostly in Africa.
The $58 million grant from the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI) will support vaccinations against the viral disease spread by mosquitoes in the world’s most-affected countries: Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Guinea, Liberia, Mali, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone and Togo.
It will also create a stockpile of 11 million doses of the vaccine to prevent outbreaks and manage epidemics, according to the Swiss-based GAVI, whose partners include governments, drugmakers, the World Health Organization, the World Bank and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
David Heymann, the World Health Organization’s top official for communicable diseases, said the GAVI-supported programme could save lives by expanding Immunization coverage of adults.
“Existing routine Immunization programmes target children. If we were to do only routine child Immunization for yellow fever, we would need decades to reduce the risk of epidemics and the international spread of the disease,” he said.
A total of 610 million people in Africa are thought to be at risk from the disease, named after the jaundice it causes in some patients.
High costs for vaccines has kept coverage rates “critically low” in some countries, according to the U.N. health agency. While immunizations need to reach at least 60 percent of people to prevent yellow fever from spreading into an epidemic, Nigeria in 2005 had a coverage rate of just 36 percent.
The World Health Organization has estimated it could infect 4.5 million people in Lagos, Nigeria, or one-third of the city’s population.
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