Chaos blocks yellow fever vaccination drive

Men, women and children receiving yellow fever vaccination in Odienné, northern Côte d'Ivoire, December 2009
(Koffi Samuel/IRIN)

Unrest following Côte d’Ivoire’s presidential election is blocking a nationwide vaccination drive against yellow fever, a fatal mosquito-borne disease that is affecting people throughout the country.

In the past month 11 people have died in the centre-north departments of Séguéla, Katiola, and Béoumi; two cases of yellow fever have been confirmed and there are a further 21 suspected cases in those departments and in nearby Mankono, according to local health workers and the World Health Organization (WHO). Health officials are still investigating the suspected cases, some of which could be dengue, WHO said.

A yellow fever immunization drive initially planned for the end of November as part of a worldwide WHO and UN Children’s Fund initiative has been postponed twice due to the current political situation.

Rivals Alassane Ouattara and incumbent Laurent Gbagbo claim the presidency and have formed governments. There have been violent clashes, particularly in the west; in the commercial capital Abidjan pro-Gbagbo youth have attacked UN personnel and vehicles. The UN says it recognizes Ouattara as president.

“[The vaccination drive] was set again for 10-15 January but now again it looks like that won’t be possible due to the insecurity,” John Mulangu, WHO-Africa emergency and humanitarian action adviser, told IRIN.

Nationwide campaigns imply that UN and local health workers go to communities in teams over a period of days, but WHO workers said this was currently not feasible. Another problem is that many district health directors who travelled to Abidjan to vote have not made it back to their posts because of insecurity on the roads and severely limited bus services.

Yellow fever has no cure; it causes severe illness and kills about half of its victims, mostly due to lack of treatment for symptoms like dehydration. WHO says the single most important preventive measure is vaccination.

WHO and local health officials told IRIN people were being vaccinated on a small scale, but said it was critical to cover the entire country.

Coulibaly Seydou, Séguéla health district director, said health workers were able to vaccinate people in some affected villages there on 26-28 December.

“But given that yellow fever is transmitted by mosquitoes, it spreads easily; it doesn’t stop at a village or district boundary,” Coulibaly told IRIN.

“It is important that the vaccination campaign be conducted in all targeted regions of the entire country,” WHO’s Mulangu said. “If we do not do this we might see a spread of the disease with high morbidity and high mortality.”


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information:

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