Emergencies preparedness, response

Photo essay on yellow fever vaccination campaign in West Africa

In November 2009, the largest yellow fever mass vaccination campaign in 50 years took place in three West African countries at high risk of the disease - Benin, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

Yellow fever is an acute viral haemorrhagic disease transmitted by infected mosquitoes. It can cause severe illness and death. The disease is very difficult to diagnose in the early stages of infection and up to 50% of people severely affected can die from the disease. There is no specific treatment for yellow fever. However, just one dose of yellow fever vaccine offers full protection against infection.

In the past two decades, the number of yellow fever cases has increased due to several factors, including declining population immunity to infection, deforestation, urbanization, population movement and climate change.

These photos describe the first mass vaccination campaign in which yellow fever vaccination was simultaneously launched across several countries, targeting a population of 11.9 million.

Long years of conflict and instability weakened Liberia's infrastructure and obstructed national development. The country today faces a challenging situation.
WHO/Aphaluck Bhatiasevi

Benin, Liberia and Sierra Leone are located on the west coast of Africa. Long years of instability in many of these countries weakened the public health infrastructure and slowed national development. The recent mass vaccination campaign against yellow fever has demonstrated the strong political commitment in the three countries to improve the health of the population, despite these and other challenges.

National vaccination campaign, working in partnership
WHO/Alejandro Costa

Conducting a successful yellow fever vaccination campaign depends upon partnership. The materials were purchased, shipped and distributed in countries thanks to the collaboration of WHO, UNICEF, UN partners, and national and international NGOs, with the financial support of the GAVI Alliance.

Rough roads
Liberia Ministry of Health/J. Leahown Tokpah

Ensuring all the materials required for the vaccination campaign – vaccines, syringes, vaccine carriers, vaccination cards – are delivered and stored for use by more than 2,200 vaccination teams in the country, is a huge challenge, especially in areas where travel is difficult and there is limited electricity.

Health care workers attending trainings
WHO/Aphaluck Bhatiasevi

Over 9,000 health-care workers and their teams have been trained on communicating key messages to the public, vaccination techniques, monitoring for adverse events, waste management and other technical areas involved in the mass vaccination campaign.

Health Minister Dr Walter Gwenigale receives the yellow fever vaccine.
WHO/Aphaluck Bhatiasevi

Liberia's Minister of Health, Dr Walter Gwenigale receives the vaccine while the Vice President, Joseph Boakai waits in line for his turn, at the launch of the country's National Yellow Fever Vaccination Campaign. In his statement at the launch, Vice President Boakai reiterated the commitment and determination of the Government to bring health services to all “nooks and crannies” or remote corners of the country.

Social mobilization
WHO/Aphaluck Bhatiasevi

Music and dance play an important role in the mass vaccination campaign. Activities that delivered information on yellow fever bringing together reggae music and traditional dance, helped to communicate important messages and encourage people to change their behaviour. These events drew the attention of large crowds, particularly from the busy 'red light' district of Paynesville, Montserrado county. People sang along with the ‘yellow fever’ jingle, a song which has now been played across the country.

People queuing for vaccination
WHO/Alejandro Costa

Long queues were observed from the early hours of the morning at most vaccination sites. This group of women from Tonkolili district in Sierra Leone are among more than four million Sierra Leoneans targeted for yellow fever vaccination.

WHO/Aphaluck Bhatiasevi

Dedicated health workers like Ms Karato Cooper work tirelessly to serve the people waiting in the long queues get their vaccines. She said she was very pleased to see so many people come out for the vaccination.

Waste management: a huge challenge
WHO/Gael du Châtellier

Management of the waste materials generated by the vaccination campaign was a huge challenge. In Sierra Leone alone, more than 56,000 'safety boxes' filled with needles and syringes had to be disposed of in settings where infrastructure is limited even for the management of household waste.

Students show yellow cards
WHO/Aphaluck Bhatiasevi

The Yellow Fever Vaccination Campaign is an investment in the country's future. Students at TenneWonde Public Community School in Cape Mount County, Liberia proudly show their ‘yellow cards’ as they announce that they have already received the vaccine.