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Last Updated: Wednesday, 16 May 2007, 10:47 GMT 11:47 UK
African yellow fever targeted
Togolese children with cards -  Copyright - Olivier Asselin/WHO
Togo has had three recent cases of yellow fever
The UN is launching a multi-billion dollar initiative to combat the spread of yellow fever in Africa, as it warns of more uncontrollable outbreaks.

Several countries, including Togo, have recently reported cases of the haemorrhagic illness, in spite of mass immunisation campaigns for children.

The disease is spreading as population movements intensify, a World Health Organization spokesperson told the BBC.

Yellow fever has no cure and causes some 30,000 deaths a year.

What is for sure is that we have a very good vaccine and this vaccine is affordable
WHO's Sylvie Briand

The BBC's Imogen Foulkes in Geneva says this figure is hardly comparable with Africa's big killers: Aids, tuberculosis and malaria.

But the WHO insists that is no reason not to do something about it.

"I wouldn't say that yellow fever is more important than HIV/Aids or malaria, but what is for sure is that we have a very good vaccine and this vaccine is affordable," WHO yellow fever expert Sylvie Briand told the BBC.

WHO fears an outbreak of yellow fever in an under-immunised densely populated city.

In such a situation the disease could spread fast and claim many lives.

Dr Briand said Togo had three cases of yellow fever recently.

"We had the same scenario two years ago in Sudan as well: in South Kordofan they didn't have any outbreaks for 40 years and because of movement of people related to the peace agreement in Sudan then people moved again to regions which were not so densely populated before the outbreak," she said.

The new campaign will devote $58m to vaccinating the most at risk populations in 12 African countries.

When the new director general of the WHO, Dr Margaret Chan, took office last December, she promised to dedicate her time to improving health in Africa.

Our correspondent says she is starting with an unexpected, but experts say, a very deserving cause.

In Pictures - Yellow fever in Togo
07 Mar 07 |  In Pictures

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