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Yellow Fever in Guinea: 500,000 Vaccinated
February 21, 2003
After several confirmed cases of yellow fever in the Macenta district of southern Guinea, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and Guinean health officials conducted a mass vaccination campaign throughout the region. Three patients with yellow fever were seen at the MSF clinic in the Kuankan camp, where teams have been providing emergency medical assistance to Liberian refugees since last July. The camp shelters nearly 34,000 Liberians from the Lofa region, where intense fighting between government forces and rebels has rendered the area inaccessible to humanitarian aid.
Yellow fever is fatal in 40% of severe cases, and the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates it kills 30,000 people a year, mainly in Africa, South America, and the Caribbean. The viral disease, transmitted by mosquitoes, has no specific treatment, with medication limited to treating extreme symptoms like fever, jaundice, and hemorrhages. The most serious instances lead to liver and kidney failure, followed by coma or death. Unfortunately, many people in endemic yellow fever areas live in scattered villages far from health centers, the sick often arrive at hospitals too late for successful treatment. Vaccination remains the most effective protection against the risks of an epidemic.
Yellow fever had practically vanished from West Africa in the 1950s and 1960s. But the disease has reappeared regularly, particularly in Guinea, since the 1980s. In December 2000, nearly 500 cases were recorded in the northern areas of Mamou, Labbé and Kankan. At the time, MSF took part in a massive vaccination campaign that provided protection for more than one million people, but the lack of profitability led manufacturers to produce far fewer vaccines than were needed.
A vaccination campaign launched by Guinea's Ministry of Health and the WHO on February 1, 2003 has covered 500,000 people, with no shortages reported in the vaccine supply. MSF has provided 110,000 vaccines, as well as medical and technical support, to the campaign. More than 47,300 people were vaccinated on the first day alone by 51 vaccination teams crisscrossing the area.