The Democratic Republic of the Congo on Tuesday launched a preventive yellow fever vaccination campaign targeting more than 16.3 million people – the first such drive against the disease in Africa in 2021.
The campaign is a collaborative effort involving the country’s health authorities with the support of the World Health Organization (WHO) and other partners including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, PATH, UNICEF and Village Reach.
According to a statement from WHO, the vaccination campaign will be carried out in seven of the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s 21 provinces among people aged nine months to 60 years, including nearly 300 000 refugees.
The campaign has taken more than a year of planning and was partly delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Tackling other health emergencies is now doubly difficult as countries are also working hard to contain the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa.
“While yellow fever is a dangerous disease, it is easily preventable with one shot in the arm. This campaign illustrates that by adjusting to the new normal, working together and innovating we can avert other outbreaks and combat COVID-19.”
WHO is providing technical and coordination support to the campaign, training vaccinators as well as providing real time monitoring tools, including data management and a post campaign survey.
Although the Democratic Republic of the Congo introduced yellow fever vaccination as part of the national routine vaccination programme in 2003, coverage remains around 56%, below the recommended minimum of 80%.
Low coverage has led to a resurgence of the disease in the country, with six outbreaks erupting between 2010 and 2019. A major outbreak in neighbouring Angola in 2016 spread into the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s capital Kinshasa and two other provinces.
In January, Guinea and Senegal carried out reactive yellow fever vaccination campaigns after cases were detected. In 2021, aside from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Nigeria, Republic of Congo and Sudan are to carry out yellow fever preventive campaigns, targeting a total of 53 million people in the four countries.
The burden of yellow fever in Africa is estimated at between 84 000 and 170 000 severe cases and 29 000 and 60 000 deaths annually. Twenty-seven African countries are at the highest risk for yellow fever epidemics.