Officials in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Angola are fighting what they call the “largest yellow fever epidemic for decades” with a mass vaccination campaign.
Yellow fever has already killed more than 400 people in the region, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), and thousands more have contracted the disease.
The virus is spread by mosquitoes, and symptoms include fever, chills, abdominal pain and nausea, Health Canada says. Severe cases leads to jaundice, internal bleeding and death.
The WHO says it is planning on vaccinating more than 14 million people over 10 days in more than 8,000 locations, which would stop the epidemic from spreading. On Wednesday, Save the Children Canada will send their rapid deployment team to DRC to help out.
Kinshasa, the capital of DRC, is a major focus point for WHO; officials warn that it could be the gateway to a global epidemic.
“There is no known cure for yellow fever and it could go global,” Save the Children’s president Patricia Erb said in a release. “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.”
There are only seven million doses of the vaccines stockpiled, according to Save The Children, and WHO reports that the vaccine takes six months to produce.
With 10 million people in Kinshasa alone, officials have come up with a partial vaccination campaign which is designed to help the most people in a short amount of time. Called “fractional dosing,” one-fifth of the normal vaccine dose will be injected and will only protect a person against yellow fever for 12 months.
″Protecting as many people as possible is at the heart of this strategy. With a limited supply we need to use these vaccines very carefully,″ says William Perea, co-ordinator for the Control of Epidemic Diseases Unit at WHO.
“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,” Erb said. “We can only hope this will be enough to stop the epidemic spreading any further.”
The campaign is being accelerated to try to stop it spreading before the rainy season starts in September and makes more remote parts of the region inaccessible.
The outbreak has spread as far as China, carried by workers returning from Angola, but WHO spokesman Tarik Jasarevic said on Tuesday he was optimistic it could be contained.
“The WHO Emergency Committee will reconvene in coming weeks (and) will re-evaluate the situation but we think that the outbreak is manageable if we can protect enough people with the vaccine,” he told reporters in Geneva.
*with files from Reuters