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Donors Offer Free Yellow Fever Vaccines in Africa

Representatives from eight Central and West African countries are meeting in Mali this week for training on preventing yellow fever. This highly contagious disease, which had been virtually eliminated in the 1950s, has re-emerged in Africa. Phuong Tran reports for VOA from Dakar that an international donor alliance is providing almost $60 million in free yellow fever vaccines.

Yellow fever has re-emerged in Africa, according to James Mwanzia, director of Prevention and Control at the World Heath Organization Africa office. He says that since the year 2000, there have been 1700 reported cases of yellow fever in Africa, which resulted in 300 deaths.

"There is indeed a risk, especially in the tropical region of Africa that another outbreak can occur," he said. "One important thing to ensure is that we always have adequate stocks of the vaccine available to respond quickly. This kind of outbreak can extend to urban populations. The urban populations are more dense and that would affect more people."

Having vaccines on hand before an outbreak, he says, is critical to saving lives.

"For any suspected cases where there are all the symptoms related to yellow fever, including high fever, jaundice, bleeding, all these suspected cases must be investigated as soon as possible. A quick response can save many lives," he noted.

An international group of donors known as GAVI is offering almost $60 million in free vaccines during the next four years. The vaccinations cost 25 cents and last about 10 years. To receive the free vaccines, a country must meet certain conditions, and attend a yellow-fever training workshop.

The five-day workshop is focusing on preventing outbreaks by establishing country vaccination campaigns. Phillipe Stoeckel is president of Agence de Médecine Préventive, the non profit Paris-based technical assistance group conducting the training.

"It is very important to switch from outbreak response to preventative campaign," he said. "In the years between 1935 and 1950, systematic immunizations eliminated yellow fever. Why not do it now?"

The GAVI Alliance is a public-private partnership that wants to increase childhood immunizations in poor countries. Partners include national governments, UNICEF, the World Health Organization, The World Bank, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the vaccine industry, public health institutions, and non-governmental organizations.

The alliance has distributed six million free yellow fever treatments since 2002.