MSF Supporting Massive Yellow Fever Vaccination Effort in DRC

Dieter Telemans

Amidst an ongoing yellow fever epidemic in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is mobilizing considerable resources to support the Congolese authorities in a massive vaccination campaign against the disease. The plan is to vaccinate 10.5 million people over the next ten days.

MSF is organizing the work of 100 teams of 16 people each in three health zones of Kinshasa, DRC’s capital city. Fifty-eight foreign and 103 national Congolese staff from MSF will manage the campaign to vaccinate 760,000 people, or roughly 10 percent of the target number in the city.

According to the World Health Organization, the epidemic that hit Central Africa last January has already led to 879 confirmed cases and 119 deaths in Angola. In DRC, there have been 74 confirmed cases that led to 16 deaths. Yellow fever cannot be cured and the only treatment is limited to alleviating symptoms. It kills from 15 to 50 percent of those who develop the severe form of the disease. Vaccination is the best prevention against the disease.

MSF has been present since the start of the epidemic in the DRC and is currently working in Kinshasa and Kwango province, near the Angola border. It has already vaccinated the entire population of Matadi city (370,000 people) in support of the Congolese Ministry of Health. Between the Matadi and Kinshasa vaccinations, MSF has committed €2.4 million to vaccinate more than a million people.

MSF also augmented its teams by bringing in staff from 19 countries and reassigning dozens of Congolese employees from other MSF projects in DRC. Some 1,600 staff from the Congolese Ministry of Health will be working alongside MSF in three health zones as well. This includes nurses who will be giving the vaccine shots.

Watch: Yellow Fever: A closer Look at the Disease

A vaccination campaign on this scale comes with numerous logistical challenges, such as managing the movements of 65 vehicles in densely populated neighborhoods and ensuring that the cold chain remains effective in keeping the vaccines at the proper temperature. Every day, the teams will need 4,000 ice packs and coolers in different locations.

“Considering that there is a very safe and effective vaccine, this campaign is an essential step to containing the spread of the outbreak, but vigilance will remain crucial in the upcoming months,” says Axelle Ronsse, MSF’s emergency coordinator.

MSF also provides case management for suspected and confirmed yellow fever cases and organizes vector control activities to try and control the mosquito population, the carrier of the yellow fever virus.

Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) staff stock 17.000 icepacks in cooler containers. The icepacks are cooled at a temperature of minus 22. Before being stored in blue boxes with the vaccines. They are spread out in the sun till they reach a temperature of 0°C. As the vaccines have to be kept at the temperature between +2 and +8°C.
Dieter Telemans