GUINEA: Vaccine drive set as yellow fever strikes

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DAKAR, 8 January 2010 (IRIN) - Guinean health officials plan this month to vaccinate more than 250,000 people in the northeast against yellow fever after one confirmed and several suspected cases emerged in the region.

The woman found to be infected with the mosquito-borne viral infection is in Mandiana, a Guinea prefecture that has never had a yellow fever vaccination campaign, according to the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Health Ministry.

"In some areas we have vaccinated only on a case-by-case basis and Mandiana is one prefecture where we have not done a preventive campaign," Sakoba Keïta, Health Ministry head of disease prevention, told IRIN.

A 28-29 December investigation found seven other suspected cases in the prefecture. The outbreak comes weeks after at least 20 people died of yellow fever in the bordering Denguélé region of Côte d'Ivoire.

There is no cure for yellow fever and vaccination is the single most important measure against the disease, which kills about 50 percent of severely affected persons who lack treatment for associated fever and dehydration, according to WHO.

Health officials have yet to fix a date for the Mandiana vaccination campaign, which will target 278,681 people in the prefecture - all inhabitants except children under nine months and pregnant women.

"We fully expect it will take place in January," the Health Ministry's Keïta said. "We are still meeting with international NGOs to mobilize supplemental funds for the vaccination drive." The campaign would cost US$391,384, according to the ministry's post-investigation report.

WHO's International Coordinating Group on Yellow Fever Vaccine (ICG) has received a request from Guinea to use vaccines from the international emergency stockpile for the Mandiana campaign, Alejandro Costa, scientist with WHO's global alert and response department, told IRIN on 8 January.

The group expects to decide soon, he said. "If the ICG considers that the data submitted by the country is sufficient to justify a release of vaccine from the emergency stockpile the vaccine will be sent immediately."

A nationwide preventive vaccination campaign was set to take place in Guinea in mid-2009 but it has been pushed back to around April 2010 in part due to a lack of vaccine, the Health Ministry's Keïta said.

Short supply

The worldwide supply of yellow fever vaccine is limited, according to WHO. In mid-2009 the ICG appealed for funds to replenish the emergency stockpile which is used for outbreak response and to complete preventative campaigns in the 12 highest risk countries - Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Côte d'Ivoire, Ghana, Guinea, Liberia, Mali, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone and Togo.

"The emergency stockpile is funded for 2010, with six million doses in stock and ready to be used in any country facing an outbreak," Costa told IRIN. "WHO is seeking alternatives for financing the stockpile beyond 2010."