A yellow fever outbreak has been declared in three provinces including the capital Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) on Monday.
The declaration follows the confirmation of 67 cases of the disease, with another 1,000 suspected cases still under observation.
Health Minister Felix Kabange confirmed that five people have already died from the epidemic which began in Angola. He stated that seven of the proven cases were indigenous to the Central African country, while 58 were imported from Angola.
Two other cases came from remote forested areas not linked to the current outbreak.
“I declare today a localized epidemic of yellow fever in the provinces of Kinshasa, Kongo Central and Kwango,” Kabange told a news conference.
The capital Kinshasa with its population of more than 12 million and poor healthcare facilities is the primary concern for global health officials during the yellow fever outbreak.
Experts have warned that vaccines have already been exhausted worldwide twice this year in the bid to immunize people in Angola, Uganda and Congo.
The stockpile stands at 6 million doses, but may not be enough to go round if there are simultaneous outbreaks in multiple highly populated areas.
So far, almost 18 million doses have been distributed for emergency vaccination campaigns in the three African countries.
Meanwhile, replacing the vaccines is not so easy as the current method for making them, using chicken eggs, takes a year.
In the event of a global shortage, the World Health Organisation (WHO) advisers have recommended using a fifth of the standard dose of vaccine which should be enough to immunize temporarily but will not give lifelong immunity. This will go a long way in curtailing the yellow fever outbreak.
“An epidemic in such a large city (as Kinshasa) is always difficult to handle,” said WHO’s Congo representative Yokouide Allarangar.
“A vaccination campaign has been staged in two of the city’s health zones deemed as high risk because the virus is circulating but is not linked to imported cases”, he said.
“We need to quickly try to contain these zones where the virus circulates to prevent the disease from spreading to other zones,” he said, adding that a million of the city’s residents have been vaccinated so far.
Though more fatal, yellow fever is transmitted by the same mosquitoes that spread the Zika and dengue viruses.