Vaccines urgently needed to treat yellow fever epidemic

Brussels/Conakry, December 18, 2000 - The lives of several million people are currently threatened by an epidemic of yellow fever in Guinea. Over 1.5 million doses of vaccine are desperately needed and the absence is undermining vaccination efforts by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF). MSF, in collaboration with the Guinean Ministry of Health began carrying out vaccination campaigns in mid-Novermber and currently has 20 expatriate volunteers working in several regions throughout the country. The latest figures indicate 493 cases have been identified in the areas of Mamou, Labbé and Kankan, including the towns of Kindia (83 kilometers of Conakry) and of Dubreca (30 kilometers of Conakry). The global mortality rate is around 40 percent. Medical teams vaccinate 10,000 to 15,000 people per day. In the prefecture of Mamou, 265,000 people have already been inoculated and teams are currently immunizing people in the prefecture of Labbé (pop: 277,000). These actions are simply not enough. More than 2.5 million people, including the entire population of Conakry (pop: 1.5 million) remain threatened by the epidemic. Even if all worldwide stocks of yellow fever vaccine were taken into account, the current campaign would still require an additional 1.5 million doses in order to provide vaccinations for people at risk. This vaccine deficit may have grave consequences, especially during the next rainy season in May, when conditions become favorable for yellow-fever carrying mosquitoes to spread the disease. All people at risk must therefore be vaccinated by that time. Yellow fever is a viral disease that is transmitted by mosquitoes. Mortality rates can be as high as 80%. Approximately 35 African countries, as well as certain areas of South America, are regarded as at risk for yellow fever. Two recent epidemics in Nigeria and in Bolivia should have raised awareness among the international community as to the need for stocks of the vaccine. MSF insists that international community, in particular the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), immediately begins to develop vaccine stocks to allow for rapid respond to outbreaks of yellow fever. Due to a lack of profitability (see the MSF Campaign for Access to Essential Medicine), pharmaceutical companies only produce the yellow fever vaccine on demand - with the majority of orders coming from the aforementioned organizations. Since 1988, MSF has worked in Guinea running tuberculosis programmes and providing assistance to refugees from Sierra Leone and Liberia. At present, MSF has 40 expatriates in Guinea, half of which (20), are working on vaccination efforts against Yellow Fever.