Physician Leaders' Concern Over Yellow Fever Outbreaks

(24.05.2016) Concern over the possible spread of a yellow fever epidemic has been expressed by the World Medical Association. In particular, physician leaders have voiced their concern about a shortage of vaccine.

WMA President Sir Michael Marmot said he welcomed the latest pronouncement from the World Health Organisation that the epidemic that started in Angola was “a serious public health event” rather than a “public health emergency of international concern”. Since the epidemic started in December, it has infected more than 2,000 people, with cases also reported in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya and China.

But Sir Michael added: ‘However, we cannot afford to relax. We simply cannot afford another failure to co-ordinate a quick and effective response to a global epidemic. We live in a world where infected travellers can so easily turn a serious outbreak into a devastating epidemic’.

Yellow fever is caused by a virus which is transmitted by the Aedes aegypti mosquito which is also responsible for transmitting the Zika virus, dengue and chikungunya. Symptoms of yellow fever infection range from a self-limiting febrile illness to severe liver disease and organ failure.

There is no effective treatment for yellow fever, except prevention with the yellow fever vaccine. The global supply of yellow fever vaccine is approximately five to seven million doses, with annual capacity of about 80 million doses.

Sir Michael concluded: ‘We must be ready to respond rapidly if the current outbreaks spread to heavily populated areas. This means ensuring that the global stockpile of vaccine is sufficient to meet any sudden emergency requirements. It is encouraging that the WHO has held an emergency meeting to consider its response, looking at the rapid review of vaccine sparing strategies to extend vaccine supplies and we hope that this will lead to greater surveillance and encouraging mass immunization where necessary’.