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article imageUN handling of yellow fever outbreak in Africa another failure

By Karen Graham     Aug 5, 2016 in Health
The World Health Organization and its partners sent over six million doses of yellow fever vaccine to Angola in February, but one month later, over one million of those doses had disappeared.
When asked where the vaccines had been sent, country officials didn't seem to know what anyone was talking about. WHO representatives complained internally, suspecting the vaccines had been pilfered by local politicians and sold on the black market.
Keep in mind this event took place in March, and now it is August, and this is the first the world has heard about this. Of the shipments that did get to Angola, some vaccines were sent to areas where there was no yellow fever, and some vaccines were sent to areas that were infected, but without the needed syringes.
Worse still, many of the vaccines sent to neighboring Congo weren't kept refrigerated because someone said ice-packs weren't sent, leaving the vaccines ineffective. A number of experts are complaining, saying it is "pointless" to approve vaccination plans for Angola since the country was ignoring them.
People getting yellow fever vaccination in Angola.
People getting yellow fever vaccination in Angola.
oluwatosin owolabi
Needless to say, in the meantime, the hemorrhagic fever has continued to spread across borders. The WHO puts the number of yellow fever cases at over 5,000, and that is just the reported cases, with at least 450 deaths.
Based on information from hundreds of emails and documents obtained by the Associated Press, the UN health agency is facing many of the same problems that sidetracked and eventually compromised their handling of the Ebola outbreak that killed 11,000 people in three west African countries.
One internal draft document sent from WHO's Africa office in Angola to UN headquarters in Geneva in June cited a lack of senior leadership at WHO, the same accusations that were made during the Ebola outbreak. Specifically, the writer complained that the emergency response manager and the team in Angola “are unable to lead or positively influence the operational direction and scale of containment efforts.”
The one laboratory in Congo that is equipped to do testing for yellow fever had to close for weeks after running out of diagnostic materials, leaving health officials unable to track the evolving virus. It was still closed in the middle of July.
WHO’s Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan emailed Dr. Joanne Liu, international president of Doctors Without Borders, detailing a number of steps needed to resolve the problem. Wanting to avoid bad publicity, Chan asked Liu to not share the email.
To say the ongoing yellow fever outbreak is a major bungle for the WHO is an understatement. The yellow fever vaccine is needed in Africa, but vaccines are also needed in Brazil, Chad, Colombia, Ethiopia, Ghana, Peru, and Uganda, where yellow fever cases are not related to the Angola outbreak.
Child being vaccinated for yellow fever.
Child being vaccinated for yellow fever.
WHO/Aphaluck Bhatiasevi
Right now, at least 22 million doses of the yellow fever vaccine are needed in Africa, but unavailable. The disease is spreading unchecked in the Congolese capital of Kinshasa, home to over 10 million people. Savannah Now reports that Amanda McClelland, a senior official with the IFRC, an international organization of the Red Cross and Red Crescent societies said, “We could have prevented this from happening."
The WHO is so desperate to get people vaccinated they have suggested the vaccine be diluted, even though a draft document sent out in May said that doing so “should be forgotten because of the programmatic and safety concerns.” Now, in a press release, WHO has decided that partial doses, which use one-fifth of the standard vaccine dose, could indeed be “a safe and effective option.”
The yellow fever outbreak has turned into a comedy of errors, and it is not funny at all. Poor management of the international organization responsible for the world's health needs has failed in its mission a second time, and this is doubly troubling because there is a vaccine available for the disease.
More about United Nations, yellow fever outbreak, World health organization, Vaccines, severe shortage
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