HomeArticles​Almost 400 000 Congolese have been vaccinated against yellow fever in just...

​Almost 400 000 Congolese have been vaccinated against yellow fever in just a few days

After the outbreak of the virus in Angola, medical teams are frantically working in the Democratic Republic of Congo to halt its spread.

As a yellow fever outbreak continues to rage in Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), medical teams have vaccinated about 373 000 people in the past week against the virus in a bid to curb mounting cases already in the thousands, according to the international humanitarian organisation Doctors Without Borders (MSF).

About 830 fieldworkers from MSF carried out the vaccinations in the port city of Matadi, situated on the banks of the Congo River.

The DRC has seen about 1 300 suspected cases of the mosquito-borne illness since a yellow fever outbreak originated in neighbouring Angola in December, according to the World Health Organisation.

WHO director general Dr Margaret Chan has called the outbreak the worst Angola has seen in 30 years.

Regularly found in areas of Africa as well as Central and South America, yellow fever can be accompanied by flu-like symptoms as well as jaundice, or a yellowing of the skin that gives rise to the fever’s name, according to the WHO.

In a small percentage of cases, patients may initially seem to recover from symptoms before a high fever sets in. In these serious cases, organs such as the liver and kidneys may be affected and patients may begin bleeding from the eyes, nose or mouth. About half of the patients who experience these more severe symptoms will die within 10 days following blood loss, shock and eventual organ failure, according to the United States Centres for Disease Control.

Almost 430 reported deaths have been attributed to the outbreak, according to the WHO.

The WHO also notes that at least 13 cases in Kenya and China have been linked to the Angolan outbreak, which the organisation says highlights the risk of the virus’s international spread by non-immunised travellers. The first DRC patient to be diagnosed with yellow fever had recently returned from Angola.

MSF’s campaign is the latest in vaccination efforts to stop the outbreak. The international response has used at least 30‑million doses of yellow fever vaccine — enough to deplete the WHO’s global stockpile twice, according to the organisation’s Alejandro Costa, who works in its emergency vaccination and stockpiles division.

“This year, with the Angola outbreak, is the first time that we have depleted the stockpile,” said Costa in a recorded message posted on the organisation’s YouTube channel. “The main purpose of the global stockpile is to control an urban outbreak because the disease can spread rapidly when you have the vector — which is the mosquito — and very dense populations.”

As vaccination drives continue, medical teams will be hoping to vaccinate 90% of affected populations to stop the outbreak in its tracks. The WHO has estimated that $35.5‑million will be needed to respond to the outbreak.

Laura Lopez Gonzalez is a freelance health journalist and editor. She was Bhekisisa's news editor then deputy editor between 2016 and 2020.