NAIROBI (AlertNet) – The World Health Organization (WHO) is preparing to vaccinate millions of people in Sudan’s troubled Darfur region to stem an outbreak of yellow fever that has led to 84 suspected cases, including 32 deaths, since the first week of October.
Yellow fever is a viral infection that is transmitted by mosquitoes in tropical regions leading to fever, vomiting, liver inflammation and jaundice. It can cause bleeding from the nose, mouth, stomach or eyes.
Five cases per day have been detected for the last week, according to the WHO representative in Sudan, Anshu Banerjee.
“Every day we have a few new districts that are affected,” he told AlertNet.
“It has affected a number of localities in Central Darfur. It affected two districts in South Darfur and now we have reports that it also affected two districts in West Darfur.”
On Wednesday, WHO sent a sample to Senegal to reconfirm the Sudanese ministry of health’s diagnosis. Once this is confirmed, which is expected late next week, it will draw up a vaccination plan.
The last outbreak of yellow fever in Sudan was in South Kordofan in 2005 where there were 604 cases, including 163 deaths, over a four-month period.
There is no specific treatment for yellow fever, only supportive care to treat dehydration and fever, and blood transfusion if needed. Vaccination is the main preventative measure.
War has ravaged Darfur since rebels took up arms in 2003, saying the central government had neglected the region. Conflict has continued despite the presence of the world's largest peacekeeping operation, the United Nations-African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID), with humanitarian workers often targeted.
“There are of course a lot of security constraints,” said Banerjee.
“We sometimes need support from UNAMID escorts, things like that, but it doesn’t mean we are actually not able to conduct the campaigns.”
It can also be hard to reach remote, mountainous villages in the Jebel Marra region of central Darfur, far from health centres.
Banerjee also said Sudan has a “well-functioning immunisation programme”.
It gets significant funding from the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation and from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.
In October, a WHO vaccination campaign against meningitis reached the majority of Darfur’s eight million people.
“There is a lot of institutional support from the government,” said Banerjee.
“The difficulties from a security point of view in Darfur will not prevent us from being able to conduct the campaign.”