Ebba Kalondo, Risk Communications Specialist for the World Health Organization. 

The biggest emergency yellow fever vaccination campaign ever held in Africa was launched in the city of Kinshasa in Democratic Republic of Congo this week.  The Gavi-supported campaign plans to vaccinate some 10 million people against yellow fever in the 32 health zones in the densely populated capital Kinshasa and surrounding areas, and an additional 15 in remote districts bordering neighbouring Angola, where a similar vaccination campaign is also underway. Ebba Kalondo gives us this snapshot from Kinshasa:

The journey to Kinshasa took just 15 minutes. I work in the Emergencies Programme for the World Health Organization’s Regional office based in Brazzaville, a mere 15 minute boat ride from the Kinshasa bank of the Congo river. Upon arrival, WHO logisticians were happily ticking off boxes on their flip charts. The last of the 10 million syringes and other supplies needed for the campaign, had arrived and were being offloaded onto trucks, for transport to the remaining areas where their arrival was anxiously awaited. To ensure that people were protected from yellow fever, transporting the precious vaccine cargo – as well as syringes and other supplies needed to administer the dose –  was  a complex but vital cog in the campaign wheel.

Photo: WHO/Eduardo Soteras Jalil

The enormity of the task became clear at the first operations meeting, when hundreds of national experts, assisted by 95 WHO staff members, distributed activities for the campaign. An initial 2 million people in Kinshasa and Kongo Centrale district had been targeted for vaccination in late May 2016, but this campaign, especially in Kinshasa, would be like no other before it. To protect as many people at risk as possible with a limited global supply of vaccines, the Government of DRC is using one-fifth of the standard yellow fever dose as a short-term emergency measure.

 

Photo: WHO/Eduardo Soteras Jalil

This method, known as fractional dosing, was recommended by WHO’s Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunization (SAGE) after evidence demonstrated that lower doses still protect people safely and effectively for at least 12 months. This will allow millions to be immunised against yellow fever before the rainy season in late September, when mosquito populations increase and risk of transmission rises. The Government of DRC has also announced that it will hold another vaccination campaign in 2017, using the full dose of the vaccine, once vaccine supplies have returned to normal.

Photo: WHO/Eduardo Soteras Jalil

This happy mum Binta was ushered to the front of the queue with her two-year-old daughter. Like many in the queue, she said after hearing of people falling sick in neighbouring Angola, she was determined to get vaccinated. “And when I heard it was free, I told all my friends. I never got the jab before because it was expensive and I always thought only those who travelled needed to be vaccinated,” Binta added.

Photo: WHO/Eduardo Soteras Jalil

This is one of my favourite pictures so far. These children live in Maluku, a village some 100km from Kinshasa but still within the city limits. When we arrived at the Mankeo community health centre round lunchtime, some 400 people had already been vaccinated. I spoke to one of the community mobilisers there, and he told me: “We were prepared to address issues of resistance and also thought people and the emergency dose. But all the people we spoke to they didn’t want long stories, they just wanted to be safe from yellow fever, because even if it is a year, it is more protection than they have now.”