December 17, 2000

Millions in Danger of Contracting Disease

Brussels/Conakry, December 18, 2000 — An epidemic of yellow fever in Guinea currently threatens the lives of several million people, but a lack of 1.5 million doses of vaccine is undermining vaccination efforts by the international medical aid organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF). MSF, in collaboration with the Guinean Ministry of Health, began carrying out vaccination campaigns in mid-November and currently has 20 international volunteers working in several regions throughout the country.

The latest figures indicate that 493 cases have been identified in the areas of Mamou, Labbé, and Kankan, including the towns of Kindia (83 kilometers from Conakry) and Dubreca (30 kilometers from Conakry). The mortality rate is around 40 percent. Medical teams have been vaccinating 10-15,000 people per day. In the prefecture of Mamou, 265,000 people have already been vaccinated and teams are currently immunizing people in the prefecture of Labbé (277,000 people).

But these actions are simply not enough. More than 2.5 million people, including the entire population of Conakry (1.5 million people), remain threatened by the epidemic. Even if all worldwide stocks of yellow fever vaccine were taken into account, the current campaign would still require an additional 1.5 million doses in order to provide vaccinations for all those at risk. This vaccine deficit could have grave consequences, especially during the next rainy season in May, when conditions become more favorable for yellow-fever carrying mosquitoes to spread the disease. All people at risk should be vaccinated by that time.

Yellow fever is a viral disease that is transmitted by mosquitoes. Mortality rates can be as high as 80%. Approximately 35 African countries as well as certain areas of South America are regarded as at risk for yellow fever. Two recent epidemics, in Nigeria and in Bolivia, should have raised awareness among the international community as to the need for stocks of the vaccine. MSF calls on the international community, in particular the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), to immediately begin to develop vaccine stocks to allow for a rapid response to outbreaks of yellow fever. Due to a lack of profitability, pharmaceutical companies only produce the yellow fever vaccine on demand – with the majority of orders coming from the aforementioned organizations.

Since 1988, MSF has worked in Guinea running tuberculosis programs and providing assistance to refugees from Sierra Leone and Liberia. At present, MSF has 40 international volunteers in Guinea, half of whom are working on vaccination efforts against Yellow Fever.