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Ivory Coast Site for Massive Vaccination Campaign - 2001-09-20

United Nations and international aid agencies will begin Friday vaccinating millions of people against yellow fever in Abidjan, the capital of Ivory Coast. The 10-day campaign hopes to stem the rapid spread of the often fatal disease.

Ivory Coast is facing the worst outbreak of yellow fever in 20 years. The country's Ministry of Health and international aid agencies warn the disease could spread rapidly if action is not taken.

Joe Lowry is a spokesman in Abidjan for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. He tells VOA that five deaths out of 72 confirmed cases already have been reported in Abidjan.

"An epidemic of yellow fever is declared when even one case is found in the country because it is a very serious disease that spreads rapidly throughout populations, particularly through urban populations," Mr. Lowry says. "So, one case is enough by international norms to declare an epidemic. The problem is people do not realize they have yellow fever because it can give a high fever. It can mimic other diseases, like malaria. So, by the time somebody becomes sick with yellow fever, they are already infected and infectious and the virus can be passed by mosquito from one person to another."

Abidjan has a population of four million. Mr. Lowry warns as many as three-fourths of the city's population,or three million people, may not be vaccinated against the disease because of a lack of knowledge.

The Ivory Coast Red Cross, supported by the International Federation, is deploying 660 volunteers to inform the people of Abidjan about the mass vaccination campaign and the risks they run if they do not get immunized.

Mr. Lowry says many things are being done to get the vaccination message to people. Public health messages are being broadcast on radio and television. He says volunteers are going to market places, to youth centers, door-to-door to tell people where they can go to get their free vaccination shots. Mr. Lowry says they will also try to eliminate the place where mosquitoes breed.

"As it is the end of the rainy season here, there are lots of pools of stagnant water lying around the city," Mr. Lowry says, "lots of drains and gutters are blocked and particularly old tires are lying around. They are a particular favorite breeding ground for mosquitoes. So the Red Cross volunteers here, not only are they giving out public information, they are also going to assist in clean up campaigns all around the city, trying to unblock drainage channels, clean out gutters, pick up the old tires and take away the disposal and generally just give people tips on public hygiene. How to keep their areas where they live clean to stop mosquitoes breeding."

Mr. Lowry says the campaign has 1.4 million vaccines at its disposal. But, he says this is only about half what may be needed. He says the Red Cross is appealing for money to purchase more vaccines, which it will donate to the World Health Organization, which is spearheading the yellow fever immunization campaign.