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Uganda Fights Yellow Fever with New Travel Rules and Mass Vaccination Campaign

In a robust effort to combat yellow fever, Uganda has rolled out a nationwide vaccination campaign aimed at protecting its population from the mosquito-borne disease that has posed a long-standing threat. By the end of April, the campaign had successfully vaccinated 12.2 million of the targeted 14 million people, according to Dr. Michael Baganizi, an official in charge of immunization at the Ministry of Health.

As part of an international health regulation, Uganda will now require all travelers entering and leaving the country to present a yellow fever vaccination card. This new requirement is expected to encourage more people to get vaccinated, addressing concerns of vaccine hesitancy that worry healthcare providers in the East African nation.

The single-dose vaccine is being offered free of charge to Ugandans between the ages of 1 and 60. Vaccination centers have been set up across the country, including schools, universities, hospitals, and local government units. Prior to this campaign, Ugandans typically paid the equivalent of $27 to receive the yellow fever shot at private clinics.

With a population of 45 million, Uganda is one of 27 African countries classified as high-risk for yellow fever outbreaks. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there are approximately 200,000 cases and 30,000 deaths globally each year due to yellow fever. 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 through the bite of infected mosquitoes. While many infections are asymptomatic, symptoms can include fever, muscle pain, headache, loss of appetite, and nausea or vomiting, according to the WHO.

Uganda‚Äôs vaccination campaign is part of a broader global strategy launched in 2017 by the WHO and partners such as the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) to eliminate yellow fever by 2026. The initiative aims to protect nearly one billion people in Africa and the Americas. A midterm evaluation of the strategy, published last year, revealed that 185 million people in high-risk African countries had been vaccinated by August 2022.

In Uganda, many people previously only received the yellow fever shot when traveling to countries, such as South Africa, that require proof of vaccination upon arrival. However, the recent campaign has significantly increased local vaccination rates.

James Odite, a nurse at a private hospital in a Kampala suburb designated as a vaccination center, reported that hundreds of doses remained unused after the campaign. These doses will be used in future mass vaccination efforts.

Vaccine hesitancy remains a challenge, with some Ugandans expressing concerns about the safety and efficacy of the vaccines. “Some people questioned whether the government was providing expired vaccines,” Odite said. To address these concerns, Dr. Baganizi emphasized that the government has invested in community sensitization sessions to educate the public on the life-saving benefits of vaccines.

As Uganda continues its fight against yellow fever, the nationwide vaccination campaign marks a significant step towards protecting the health of its citizens and fulfilling global health goals.

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