Mon. Jun 10th, 2024

Uganda launched a mass vaccination campaign in April against the mosquito-borne disease, yellow fever. They hoped to reach millions of people but vaccine hesitancy has left hundreds of unused doses in hospitals across the country.

There is no specific treatment for the potentially deadly yellow fever virus. There is, however, a vaccine which can give lifetime protection against the disease according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

At a university in the outskirts of the Ugandan capital Kampala, these students turned up for their jabs as part of the government’s mass vaccination programme.

This was the campaign’s second phase, it was supposed to run between April 2nd and 8th but it was extended by a week because of the low turnout.

Last year in June 2023 the government ran a campaign hoping to target 13 million people.

Together the mass vaccination programmes from 2023 and 2024 were supposed to deliver enough jabs to protect 27 million people.

But to date, only 12 million people have been immunised and vaccine hesitancy is stalling the government’s aim of eradicating the mosquito-borne virus from the country.

Yellow fever, according to experts, poses a significant threat to global health security, particularly in central Africa and South America.

According to WHO, 27 countries in Africa, including Uganda, have been classified as high-risk for yellow fever with 90% of reported global cases occurring in on the continent.

It says symptoms include fever, headache, jaundice, muscle pain, nausea, vomiting, fatigue and bleeding from the nose and eyes.

The WHO estimates there are between 84,000–170,000 severe cases of yellow fever in Africa each year, up to half of these cases result in death.

Doctor Michael Baganizi is the programme manager for the Uganda National Expanded Program on Immunization.

According to Baganizi, there have been sporadic cases of the disease earlier this year.

He believes even one case can become a national risk for health.

“Uganda, like you know, is one of the 27 countries that is regarded still as high-risk countries in the world so far meaning that it’s high risk or you could get yellow fever around in the country so when you travel in or travel out that’s why we are required to have proof of vaccination,” says Baganizi.

He believes the reticence of people to get the vaccine is due to the fact that the disease is not as well known as others like malaria.

James Odite is a registered nurse at this private hospital in Kampala, one of the government’s designated vaccination centres.

He says the facility still has hundreds of unspent doses of the yellow fever vaccine.

Odite says most of the people who came for the vaccination were people who wanted to travel to another country where the vaccine is a legal requirement for entry.

“It was low in the first weeks because people were doubting about the vaccine, they thought why is the government introducing the campaign of yellow fever as they had queries like the government wants to give them expired vaccines,” Odite says.

The yellow fever jab is mandatory for people going into and out of Uganda, so people taking up the offer of a free jab tend to be travellers according to Odite.

Despite being a councillor who is involved with local law-making in Kampala, Mosh Ssendi is vehemently opposed to the vaccination programme.

He argues the effects of the disease are being overplayed to encourage people to take the vaccine.

According to the US National Institutes of Health, a safe yellow fever vaccine has been available since 1937.

But Ssendi argues people should be given the option of building up an immune response by surviving an infection.

“We are supposed to be building immunity not getting chemicals into their bodies. So, when it gets to children that’s why I personally called, by the way, the school where my son goes, I told them I don’t want to hear about anything about mass vaccination,” he says.

Baganizi believes the public is willing to risk contracting yellow fever because most have never seen it up close.

“Yellow fever though you might talk about it, few people might have seen it,” he says.

“Malaria, almost every household will know what you are talking about but yellow fever is not the same although the threat can be bigger,” he explains.

“So, educating the public is even more difficult because if I have not seen the disease, I have not seen a neighbour with the disease, I have not seen anyone who has died of the disease somehow I have the feeling that I am not at a threat,” he adds.

Baganizi knows he’s got his work cut out to convince a sceptical public to get the vaccine but he’s not giving up in his fight against the deadly virus.

By Joy

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