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Uganda tackles yellow fever with new travel requirement, vaccination campaign for millions

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KAMPALA, Uganda (AP) — Uganda has rolled out a nationwide yellow fever vaccination campaign to help safeguard its population against the mosquito-borne disease that has long posed a threat.

By the end of April, Ugandan authorities had vaccinated 12.2 million of the 14 million people targeted, said Dr. Michael Baganizi, an official in charge of immunization at the health ministry.

Uganda will now require everyone traveling to and from the country to have a yellow fever vaccination card as an international health regulation, Baganizi said.

Ugandan authorities hope the requirement will compel more people to get the yellow fever shot amid a general atmosphere of vaccine hesitancy that worries healthcare providers in the East African nation.

The single-dose vaccine has been offered free of charge to Ugandans between the ages of 1 and 60. Vaccination centers in the capital, Kampala, and elsewhere included schools, universities, hospitals and local government units.

Before this, Ugandans usually paid to get the yellow fever shot at private clinics, for the equivalent of $27.

Uganda, with 45 million people, is one of 27 countries on the African continent classified as at high risk for yellow fever outbreaks. According to the World Health Organization, there are about 200,000 cases and 30,000 deaths globally each year from the disease.

Uganda’s most recent outbreak was reported earlier this year in the central districts of Buikwe and Buvuma.

Yellow fever is caused by a virus transmitted by the bite of infected mosquitoes. The majority of infections are asymptomatic. Symptoms can include fever, muscle pain, headache, loss of appetite and nausea or vomiting, according to the WHO.

Uganda’s vaccination initiative is part of a global strategy launched in 2017 by the WHO and partners such as the U.N. children’s agency to eliminate yellow fever by 2026. The goal is to protect almost one billion people in Africa and the Americas.

A midterm evaluation of that strategy, whose results were published last year, found that 185 million people in high-risk African countries had been vaccinated by August 2022.

In Uganda, most people get the yellow fever shot when they are traveling to countries such as South Africa that demand proof of vaccination on arrival.

James Odite, a nurse working at a private hospital which has been designated as a vaccination center in a suburb of the capital, Kampala, told the AP that hundreds of doses remained unused after the yellow fever vaccination campaign closed. They will be used in a future mass campaign.

Among the issues raised by vaccine-hesitant people was the question of whether “the government wants to give them expired vaccines,” Odite said.

Baganizi, the immunization official, said Uganda’s government has invested in community “sensitization” sessions during which officials tell people that vaccines save lives.

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The Associated Press receives financial support for global health and development coverage in Africa from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Trust. The AP is solely responsible for all content. Find AP’s standards for working with philanthropies, a list of supporters and funded coverage areas at AP.org.

By RISDEL KASASIRA
Associated Press

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