May 2016 – HEALTH – Nearly a billion people in Africa and Latin America are at risk, Asia could be next and even Europe and the US have had outbreaks of the deadly disease in the past. Urgent action is needed to combat a yellow fever epidemic in Africa amid signs it is turning into a global health emergency and a severe shortage of the vaccine, academics have warned. With nearly a billion people at risk from the deadly disease in Africa and Latin America and the danger of an outbreak in Asia, immunologist Professor Daniel Lucey and Lawrence Gostin, a professor in global health law, called on the World Health Organization (WHO) to declare an emergency saying delays over Ebola had “cost lives.”
And they also said that because of the surge in new infectious diseases in recent years – thought to be driven in part by climate change – the world should now set up a permanent committee to decide how to respond as new threats emerge. Angola is in the grip of its worst yellow fever epidemic since 1986 with more than 250 deaths, and the disease is spreading rapidly – Kenya, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo have all reported cases.
In an article called A Yellow Fever Epidemic: A New Global Health Emergency? in the journal JAMA, the academics, of Georgetown University in Washington DC, warned: “The looming threat of a severe yellow fever vaccine shortage exists amid epidemics in Africa and potentially in Latin America and Asia.” Millions of people are due to be immunized as this is the only effective way to protect people against the disease, normally spread by mosquitoes. But a shortage could “spark a health security crisis” and the WHO should consider reducing the dose to make the vaccine go further “given the world’s vital health security interests”, the academics wrote.
The WHO, they argued, should also “urgently convene an emergency committee to mobilize funds, coordinate an international response, and spearhead a surge in vaccine production. Prior delays by the WHO in convening emergency committees for the Ebola virus, and possibly the on-going Zika epidemic, cost lives and should not be repeated,” they wrote. “Acting proactively to address the evolving yellow fever epidemic is imperative.”
Since the 1980s, the medical community has reported a range of new disease threats, such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), West Nile virus, bird flu and swine flu. Here are thought to be a number of reasons for this, including the growth of the human population coupled with the ease of international travel; the global trade in animals and plants; the loss of natural habitats which has forced animals to look for new places to find food; and climate change, which has enabled animals to move to different places.
Scientists are concerned that yellow fever could reach Britain naturally as the climate gets warm enough for Asian tiger mosquito to flourish. The insect has spread from its native territory in south-east Asia to Europe in just 20 years. Peru has had at least 20 cases and there have also been several in China after people returned from Angola with the disease. –Independent