US experts call for int'l attention to yellow fever

May 11, 2016 4:01 am 

WASHINGTON, May 10 — While the Zika virus is wreaking havoc in the Americas, two US health experts on Monday called for international attention to another mosquito-borne disease: yellow fever.

In a viewpoint article published online in the US journal JAMA, Daniel Lucey and Lawrence Gostin of Washington, D.C.-based Georgetown University said that evidence is mounting that the current outbreak of yellow fever could become the latest global health emergency.

The professors urged the World Health Organization (WHO) to 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 ongoing Zika epidemic, cost lives and should not be repeated," Lucey and Gostin wrote.

"Acting proactively to address the evolving yellow fever epidemic is imperative."

An epidemic of yellow fever, first reported in January, has been spreading rapidly in Angola. As of May 4, the country has reported 2,149 suspected cases of yellow fever with 277 deaths, the WHO said.

The Pan American Health Organization declared an epidemiological alert on April 22 for yellow fever in Latin America, where the Aedes aegypti mosquito vector is also actively transmitting Zika and dengue viruses.

China, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Kenya also have reported cases arising from infected travelers from Angola.

Yellow fever is an acute viral haemorrhagic disease transmitted by infected mosquitoes. Up to 50 percent of severely affected persons without treatment will die from yellow fever.

Currently, the WHO estimated that yellow fever causes 200,000 cases and 30,000 deaths each year.

While about 6 million people in Luanda have been vaccinated against yellow fever, the UN health agency said in April that there is a global vaccine shortage, with the emergency stockpile completely depleted.

Vaccine "supply shortages could potentially lead to a health security crisis, if yellow fever spreads within Africa, Asia or the Americas," warned the Georgetown University professors. "There are strong reasons to convene an emergency committee now."

Gostin and Lucey pointed out that an emergency committee meeting would allow its members to advise the director-general on the epidemic and trigger discussions about a surge in vaccine production even if a public health emergency of international concern is not declared.

With frequent emerging epidemics, they also called for the creation of a "standing emergency committee" to be prepared for future health emergencies.

"The complexities and apparent increased frequency of emerging infectious disease threats, and the catastrophic consequences of delays in the international response, make it no longer tenable to place sole responsibility and authority with the Director-General to convene currently ad hoc emergency committees," they wrote.

"Instead, the WHO should establish a standing emergency committee to meet regularly to advise the director general whether to declare an emergency, take necessary steps to avert a crisis, or both." (PNA/Xinhua)



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