Director-General's Office

Launch of EYE Strategy (Eliminate Yellow Fever Epidemics)

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus
Director-General of the World Health Organization

Abuja, Nigeria
10 April 2018

Your Excellency Professor Isaac Adewole, Minister of Health;

My sister Shidi, Regional Director for Africa;

Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,

It’s a great pleasure to be here in Abuja today for the African launch of this important strategy to eliminate yellow fever epidemics -- the EYE Strategy.

It comes at a very important time.

Yellow fever has re-emerged as a public health threat in Africa and in the Americas.

In Africa, 27 countries are at high risk of yellow fever epidemics.

There are up to 170,000 severe cases of yellow fever and 60,000 deaths every year.

In 2016, during urban yellow fever outbreaks in Angola and DRC, 965 cases were confirmed and around 400 people died. And 11 cases were exported to China.

The epidemic created an urgent need for more than 28 million doses of yellow fever vaccines, which exhausted the existing global vaccine supply.

It also diverted public health authorities from tackling other public health issues with an impact on health systems.

As you know, Brazil has been responding to a yellow fever outbreak since December 2016, with more than 1000 confirmed cases.

There is a growing risk that yellow fever will spread to cities in Asia and other parts of the world.

We must not let that happen. We must act now.

Although yellow fever is a mosquito-borne disease, it is not like dengue or malaria, for which developing an effective vaccine has been a difficult scientific challenge.

The fact is, we have had a safe, effective and affordable vaccine against this disease for decades.

A single injection can protect a person for life.

Our failure to defeat yellow fever is therefore not a failure of science. It’s a failure of markets, because the vaccine that could stop it is not profitable enough for the companies that make it.

And it’s a failure of political will, because until now our action has not been decisive enough.

Yellow fever must be a priority for Africa, and of course for the whole world.

The EYE Strategy is a bold and innovative plan to vaccinate nearly one billion people in Africa against Yellow fever by 2026. Never has the continent seen such a massive effort against the often deadly virus.

The EYE strategy is based on lessons learned from previous experience in West Africa, where mass campaigns combined with routine immunization have helped to prevent yellow fever outbreaks.

A strong partnership will allow us to eliminate yellow fever epidemics by 2026.

Nigeria has shown its commitment to the EYE Strategy by vaccinating 13 million people since October last year, including 1.2 million people in Borno State.

With support from WHO and health partners, more than 25 million people will be vaccinated against yellow fever in Nigeria this year.

WHO is also helping to build stronger surveillance and laboratory capacities. By the end of the year we hope that a second laboratory in the region will be joining Institut Pasteur Dakar as a WHO regional reference laboratory.

Together with Gavi and UNICEF, WHO is supporting routine immunization by providing guidance on how to integrate yellow fever vaccination with the standard measles vaccination in five African countries that have yet to do this.

This underlines an important point: the key to long-term success is for yellow fever vaccination to be integrated with other health services delivered at primary health care facilities.

On Saturday we marked World Health Day, which is celebrated every year on the 7th of April, the day on which WHO was founded. This year we were proud to celebrate our 70th birthday.

Our theme this year is universal health coverage – health for all.

WHO was founded on the conviction that health is a human right.

No one should get sick and die just because they are poor.

All people should have access to the health services they need, when and where they need them, without suffering financial hardship.

That includes yellow fever vaccines.

Everyone has a right to be protected against this easily preventable disease.

But investments in strong health systems are not just investments in healthier and fairer societies. They’re also investments in safer societies.

Strong health systems are better able to prevent, detect and respond to outbreaks of yellow fever and other diseases rapidly, before they spiral out of control.

That is exactly what we saw here in Nigeria with the Ebola outbreak in 2014 – when a case arrived from Liberia, you were able to quickly contain it and limit the damage. Although 7 people died, we all know it could have been much, much worse.

My point is this: universal health coverage and health security are two sides of the same coin.

Countries that invest in their health systems make a down-payment on a fairer, safer, and more prosperous future.

I congratulate everyone involved with developing the EYE Strategy.

Together, we can ensure that the next generation is free of yellow fever.

I thank you.