The outbreaks of yellow fever in central and southwest Africa have not reached the level of a global emergency, but a stronger response by affected nations and the international community is needed to prevent the spread of the deadly disease, the World Health Organization said Thursday.
An expert committee convened by the U.N. health agency in Geneva to weigh the evolving risk of the virus in urban areas of Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo and the status of the global stockpile of yellow fever vaccine determined “that the event does not at this time constitute a Public Health Emergency of International Concern.”
Categorizing the outbreak as such would have deemed it “an extraordinary event” that called for immediate action and possibly a coordinated international response, according to WHO guidelines. Such a declaration was made to combat the Ebola and Zika virus outbreaks.
Since December, there have been 2,267 suspected cases of yellow fever and almost 300 deaths in Angola from the acute hemorrhagic disease that is spread by the Aedes aegyptimosquito, the same insect that transmits the Zika virus and dengue fever.
The number of infections and casualties underscores “the potentially explosive nature of this disease and the risk internationally,” WHO expert Bruce Aylward told reporters after the emergency’s committee’s meeting.
Yellow fever cases have been imported by travelers from Angola to Kenya, China and the Democratic Republic of Congo, and raised the alarm in nations that border Angola, including Namibia and Zambia. An unrelated bout of yellow fever has also taken hold in Uganda.
The global stockpile of the vaccine was expected to reach 7 million doses by the end of May and rise to as many as 18 million doses in a few months, Aylward said, and this could help prevent the virus from spreading further. But the priority was ensuring the vaccine was used as rapidly and widespread as possible, Aylward added, noting that “getting vaccination coverage up high enough fast enough” had been a challenge.
The WHO expert committee recommended that the health agency and its member nations accelerate surveillance to detect possible cases of infection, implement mass vaccinations and enhance vector control in Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo, among other measures. It also emphasized the need to ensure that travelers to and from countries at risk for yellow fever, especially migrant workers, receive vaccination against the virus.
The vaccine is highly effective and one injection offers a lifetime of protection, health officials have said.
On Thursday, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said its staff and volunteers in Angola, Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda were working with affected communities to identify and eliminate mosquito breeding grounds and help people reduce their risks of infection.
Los Angeles Times