While during the beginning of this year, the West was focused on the Zika outbreak, another global health emergency was taking place in Africa: an outbreak of yellow fever. The outbreak was stopped only because donors (like Brazil and South Sudan) donated millions of doses of the yellow fever vaccine, which had been depleted before even one city in Angola was fully protected. Dangerously, the virus reached Asia for the first time, a continent with no yellow fever immunity. Luckily it did not get a foothold, because if it had, there would have been a global medical emergency, with many medical experts saying that an outbreak in Asia, “could make the Ebola and Zika epidemics look like picnics in the park!”
Half of people with cases of yellow fever die. Epidemics of Yellow Fever are not new. In 1794, a tenth of the population of Philadelphia was killed by the virus, and New York City was emptied out several times as people fleed the epidemics. The virus can cause urban outbreaks with it is transmitted from forest mosquitos the Aedes aegypti, mosquitos that live among humans and transmit the virus. The outbreak in Africa happened quickly, and while tens of millions of people were at risk, the emergency vaccine stockpile only held six million doses. Profits from the vaccine are low, so pharmaceutical companies dropped it. I traveled to Tanzania this summer and had to visit five different clinics in the Washington D.C area before I could find one with the Yellow Fever vaccine, and the one I received was one of their last. Vaccines are of vital importance, and while understandable that pharmaceutical companies want to produce profitable products, there needs to be more preparation for outbreaks such as these, which can explode in an instant and affect millions of lives.