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Yellow fever vaccines will run out, WHO says

EMERGENCY supplies of yellow fever vaccines are set to run out next year, and there is no funding to continue immunization campaigns after that, World Health Organization experts said yesterday in Geneva, Switzerland.

The mosquito-borne yellow fever virus infects 206,000 people a year and kills 52,000, mainly in tropical regions of Africa and the Americas.

Outbreaks in Brazil, Central African Republic and elsewhere have drawn down the 6 million doses of yellow fever vaccine reserved for emergency response, and a US$186 million shortfall has left the WHO unable to vaccinate high-risk people in Ghana and Nigeria.

Dr Rosamund Lewis, project leader of the WHO's Yellow Fever Initiative, said efforts to vaccinate vulnerable people to both prevent and respond to yellow fever epidemics would have to stop unless more funds are shored up quickly.

"For 2011, the Yellow Fever Initiative has no funding for either the emergency stockpile or the continued roll-out of preventive campaigns," she said in Geneva.

Other officials said the global financial crisis that has pinched foreign aid budgets was having an impact on efforts to fight the virus.

"As we look beyond 2009, we already see serious funding constraints," Dr William Perea, the WHO's epidemic readiness and intervention coordinator, said in a statement after a two-day meeting of UN and aid groups.

Some 33 African countries, with a combined population of 508 million, are at risk of yellow fever, which is also endemic in nine South American countries and several Caribbean islands.

Dr Fenella Avokey of the WHO's African regional office said that extra funds were desperately needed to shield children and other vulnerable people from the disease that is named after the jaundice it can cause.

"If we do not sustain this program, yellow fever outbreaks will continue to affect populations who can least afford it," Avokey said.


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