WHO and UNICEF launch rapid response to contain yellow fever emergency in Liberia
25 February 2004 | Monrovia, Liberia/Geneva - International health agencies announced Tuesday that they were joining forces with the Liberian government to combat a yellow fever emergency.
The World Health Organization and UNICEF are launching an emergency mass immunization campaign together with Liberia’s Ministry of Health and Social Welfare.
The UN agencies appealed today for US$ 1.3 million to help contain the outbreak and keep it from exploding to larger populations in displaced persons camps and urban areas.
“Conditions are ripe here for an epidemic,” said Dr. Luzitu Simao, of WHO in Liberia “The last 14 years of civil war have literally destroyed Liberia’s health infrastructure and yellow fever is an extremely deadly disease. Even among hospitalized patients, the mortality rate may reach up to 50%."
“WHO considers just one laboratory confirmed case to be an outbreak and we already have three confirmed cases and several suspected cases are undergoing laboratory analysis at the Pasteur Institute in Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire” he added.
The three confirmed cases and two of the suspected cases have died.
UNICEF said fewer than 80 000 vaccination doses were currently available in Liberia. They estimated that 522 000 people above six months of age were in need of urgent vaccination.
UNICEF and WHO estimate that it will cost US$ 1.3 million to control the outbreak. The funds will cover vaccines, injection materials, operational costs and the strengthening of epidemiological surveillance and public awareness.
Liberia lies in the yellow fever belt of West Africa and at least six outbreaks of the disease were reported between 1995 and 2002.
Yellow fever is a viral haemorrhagic disease transmitted by mosquitoes, either from monkey to human, or human to human.
The civil war in Liberia sparked massive movements of people from rural areas, where yellow fever is endemic, to crowded urban areas creating ideal conditions for transmission of the disease. Some 500 000 people are internally displaced, living in squalid camps or in the ruins of abandoned buildings, with extremely poor sanitation.
Environmental conditions will become even more favourable for the disease with the onset of the rainy season in April.
The vaccination campaign will first target Bong and Nimba counties, which border Guinea and Côte d’Ivoire respectively.