Côte d'Ivoire staves off a yellow fever epidemic thanks to the emergency support of GAVI partners

When 19 cases of yellow fever were identified in the suburbs of Abidjan in August, a devastating epidemic looked set to take hold of the Côte d'Ivoire capital.

With limited in-country vaccines, more than two million people to immunise and a political system still recovering from a decade of instability, the country bore all the symptoms of a public health crisis in the making.

The response in Abidjan was a team effort from start to finish.

Dr Yada Adamou, World Health Organization

Yet, within two weeks, the Health Ministry had successfully spearheaded a massive vaccination exercise that covered almost half of Abidjan's five million people and stopped the yellow fever outbreak in its tracks.

Dawn to dusk

The vaccine, which was financed by GAVI, was distributed at points across the capital and administered by trained health teams in a way that defied Côte d'Ivoire's recent turbulent past.

"Hundreds of people queued up at over 400 vaccination centres that were open from dawn to dusk. It was busy, but the atmosphere remained calm," says UNICEF spokesperson Yvette Bivigou.

Sounding the alarm

For a disease that spreads rapidly through mosquitoes and is fatal for the worst-infected, the Ministry's most urgent task was alerting Abidjan's citizens that they needed vaccinating to stop the epidemic.

Local television, radio stations and billboards ran adverts appealing to residents to report to public health centres and hospitals for immunisation against yellow fever.

"Each night, television news gave updates on the number of people who had been immunised," says Bivigou.

Emergency stockpile

Côte d'Ivoire's information campaign necessitated a parallel importation of yellow fever vaccines to meet the sudden, massive demand.

As one of 72 countries eligible for GAVI funding, Côte d'Ivoire was able to draw on an emergency stockpile of yellow fever vaccines in nearby Senegal for no charge. GAVI used funds from its International Finance Facility Mechanism (IFFIm) to make the emergency one-off purchase.

The vaccine stockpile at Dakar is one of three yellow fever reserves located around the world to help countries respond to epidemics. The others are based in France and Brazil.

Team effort

"The response in Abidjan was a team effort from start to finish" said Dr Yada Adamou, WHO's African Regional Focal Point for Epidemic and Pandemic Alert and Response.

The GAVI Alliance financed the vaccine and equipment, UNICEF provided the vaccine, and technical support came from other members of the International Coordinating Group for Yellow Fever including WHO, Médecins Sans Frontières and International Federation of the Red Cross.

Prior to this vaccination campaign, the last yellow fever immunisation programme in Abidjan took place in 2001, achieving a coverage rate above 90 percent. But rates had slipped in recent years due to population movements and births.

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