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Nigeria Targets 26M People in Yellow Fever Campaign

ABUJA A vaccination center in Nigeria's capital, Abuja, is swarming with people, a sign that Nigeria's campaign to vaccinate more people against yellow fever appears to be making headway.

As part of the effort, Nigeria's government partnered with the World Health Organization (WHO), vaccine alliance GAVI, and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) to immunize more than 26 million people.

It is the second phase of Nigeria's preventive campaign after a yellow fever outbreak in September 2017.

Deborah Adiche came to the Abuja vaccination center with her daughter.

"We've learned it's killing people, so we don't have to wait for it to happen to us - that's why we came to collect the vaccine and I brought her, too, to collect the vaccine."

Some 8.7 million people were vaccinated in the country during an initial campaign in January and February 2018.

This phase covers six states, including the Federal Capital Territory.

Obiora Ezebilo, UNICEF's yellow fever coordinator, has been monitoring the process.

"The campaign has been very good. We started the campaign on the 22nd of November. We're implementing in Borno state, Niger, Kebbi, Sokoto, Plateau and ... actually all the states have completed. The records were having is really good, as at now we're having maybe a coverage of above 95 percent," Ezebilo said.

But Nigeria's routine yellow fever immunization rate is low - only 4-in-10 children age 2 years and older are immunized.

Experts say a high enough percentage of the population must be immunized to contain the spread of the disease. Nigeria hopes to reach that point in five years.

About 39 million people between 9 months and 44 years old are expected to be vaccinated by the end of 2018.

Program manager for immunization in Abuja, Salome Toh, says the effort is having an impact.

"The federal government of Nigeria, in collaboration with international organizations, especially the GAVI, they have earmarked a lot of money in supporting this campaign. They purchased the vaccines, they provided logistics, and there's a national plan to cover this age group across the country. It is divided into phases, as I'm talking to you now, the first quarter of next year, other states are also going to do the campaign," Toh said.

Since the September 2017 outbreak, doctors have seen more than 1,600 suspected cases of yellow fever across 14 states. Up to 70 people have died.

UNICEF's Ezebilo says the campaign is focusing on high-risk areas first.

"There's a global shortage of yellow fever vaccines. You can't get, like, 200 million doses to vaccinate everybody in Nigeria. We have to get them based on global availability. So this year we are ... we're lucky to have about 20 million doses. So we just did a risk categorization, selected areas we feel that are most at risk and try to focus on them for the preventive campaign," Ezebilo said.

The Yellow fever virus is endemic in tropical areas and is spread through the bite of an infected mosquito. As many as 60,000 Africans die annually from the disease. Children are most at risk.

There is no cure for the viral infection, but it can be prevented with the vaccine. Once someone contracts yellow fever, medical treatment consists of easing symptoms of the virus, which include fever, muscle pain and dehydration.

Good sanitation, hygiene and proper drainage are natural ways to reduce risks of the disease.

Nigeria is one of 50 global partners battling to eliminate the disease within the next 10 years.

Besides improving sanitation and clearing stagnant water where mosquitoes breed, Nigeria needs to immunize about 80 percent of the at-risk population to prevent further transmission of the disease.

Source: Voice of America

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