For much of the past year, the Zika virus has dominated the news cycle and commanded international attention. But another mosquito-borne disease, yellow fever, is working its way (albeit more quietly) through the African nations of Angola and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Though it has attracted far less attention than the Zika virus, yellow fever nevertheless could disrupt economic activities in and beyond those countries, a key consideration in assessing the geopolitical risk of a disease outbreak. What's more, a large number of foreign workers in Angola and the Congo as well as a vaccine shortage worldwide could conspire to turn the latest outbreak of yellow fever — a disease that has been preventable for nearly 80 years — into a more global concern.
Angola's latest outbreak of yellow fever began in December 2015. Since peaking in early 2016, the incidence of new cases has dropped off. But that does not mean the outbreak is under control. Containing the spread of the disease remains an issue; though about 70 percent of Angola's population (around 15 million people) has been vaccinated against yellow fever, transmission continues. Furthermore, as recently as May, incidences of the disease were popping up in regions previously unaffected by the epidemic. In neighboring Congo, the outbreak is still developing. Having crossed the porous border with Angola, the disease has already reached five Congolese provinces, causing nearly 2,000 suspected cases.
Angola's economic ties with China could also prove to be a conduit for transmitting yellow fever. Angola sends roughly half its crude oil exports to China, and Chinese direct investment, in turn, has buoyed not only Angola's oil sector but also its construction industry. Along with the money, hundreds of thousands of Chinese citizens have gone to Angola for work; more than 250,000 resided there in 2012. Similarly, China has invested a substantial amount of money and manpower into mining projects in the Congo, where at least 5,000 Chinese workers live. Considering the size of the population overlap, it is not at all surprising that China reported 11 confirmed cases of yellow fever from Angola in April. As the disease continues to spread in Angola and the Congo, more cases could be brought back to China. So long as Angola's oil production and the Congo's mining activities continue as expected, yellow fever's effect on the global economy should be minimal. But given the limited supply of yellow fever vaccine, if the disease takes hold in China, it could have wider economic consequences.