AT least 2.5 million people will be vaccinated in northern Uganda against yellow fever that had by the weekend killed 45 people and infected 178 others.
The disease, whose fatality rate ranges between 15% and 50%, is taken so seriously that just one confirmed case is considered an outbreak by the World Health Organisation.
While the health ministry has instituted measures to contain the disease, a mass rather than ring-vaccination would be a more effective control mechanism. Diseases know no borders. With increased travel within the region the disease could have been transmitted far beyond the surrounding districts. Therefore, a mass vaccination, as was done in the Gambia in the 1970s, is the best approach in the long run. Yellow fever vaccination could also be added to the expanded programme for immunisation that currently covers the six killer diseases – tetanus, diptheria, whooping cough, polio, TB and measles.
Global statistics show that yellow fever cases are on the increase with 90% of the 200,000 cases registered annually being in Africa. Uganda is therefore, likely to experience a resurgence of yellow fever, just like polio a few years ago.
Since most Ugandan health units are not equipped to test for yellow fever, the medical workers should be highly suspicious and investigate all cases with yellow fever symptoms like high fever, chills, headache, muscle aches, vomiting, and backache. Anybody who presents these symptoms should immediately take a medical check-up.
Uganda should be more vigilant since all factors responsible for the resurgence of yellow fever are prevalent here – reduced immunisation against the disease; deforestation bringing people in closer contact with monkeys and population movements making it easier to transport the disease far and wide.
Therefore, unless stringent measures like mass immunisation are taken in collaboration with neighbouring countries, Uganda is likely to register more yellow fever outbreaks in other places with its attendant costs.