High global vaccine prices could worsen Angola’s deadly yellow fever outbreak

It hurts a little, but lasts for a lifetime.
It hurts a little, but lasts for a lifetime.
Image: AP Photo/Olivier Asselin
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Angola is experiencing its worst yellow fever outbreak in 30 years, says the World Health Organization. The mosquito-borne disease was first reported in the capital Luanda in December last year. The disease has now infected more than 490 people and killed 198, says WHO.

The solution so far has been to launch a massive vaccination campaign, and WHO and its partners had already vaccinated 5.7 million people by the end of March. But a global shortage of the the already expensive yellow fever vaccine is thwarting efforts to stop the outbreak, and 1.5 million doses of the vaccine are still needed. For now, the outbreak has only affected six of Angola’s 18 provinces, but scientists fear that travelers and Angola’s large number of migrant Chinese workers may spread the disease beyond its borders.

In 2013, the vaccination cost 82 cents a dose for routine immunizations in Africa, according to WHO, a price most developing countries simply can’t afford. Last year, Doctors Without Borders released a report on the growing price of vaccines revealing that it is now 68 times more expensive to vaccinate a child than it was in 2001.

“If vaccine prices continue to spiral out of control, we will continue to see countries in Africa and around the world faced with difficult decisions about which deadly diseases they can and can’t afford to protect their children against,” Dr Myriam Henkens, International Medical Coordinator for Doctors Without Borders, said in a statement, urging the continent’s health ministers to speak out against high vaccine prices at a ministerial conference last month.

Angola has been one of the countries that benefited from Gavi, the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization. The Geneva-based public-private partnership subsidies vaccine prices for states with a gross national income lower or equal to $1,580 per capita.

Thanks to its economic growth, Angola is set to graduate from the program and fund its own vaccination programs within the next few years, but that means Angola could see an increase of up to 1,523% in its vaccine and immunization bills, according to Doctors Without Borders. But, the falling oil price has lead to budget cuts in Africa’s second largest oil producer, already struggling to provide decent public healthcare.