In cooperation with UNICEF and the World Health Organizations, the Ministry of Public Health and Population in Aden, affiliated with the internationally recognized government, launched on Saturday, September 23, an integrated vaccination campaign against measles, rubella, vitamin A deficiency, and the Corona virus. These joint efforts aim to combat the recurring outbreak of measles and rubella and their spread in Yemen.
While Sana'a continues to have reservations about vaccination campaigns and vaccines and its decline in areas controlled by Ansar Allah (Houthis), the current integrated vaccination campaign concentrated in 13 governorates, most of which are under the control of the internationally recognized government, was launched two days ago and is expected to continue for six days, according to statement issued by UNICEF of which Khuyut obtained a copy of it. The vaccination campaign will target about 1,267,000 children, between the ages of 6 and 59 months, in 121 districts in 13 Yemeni governorates.
Informed health sources told Khuyut that the campaign will include supplying coronavirus vaccines to high-priority groups in fixed and temporary locations. Moreover, the campaign will be executed by a total of 3,025 medical teams, consisting of 847 fixed teams and 2,178 mobile teams, who will take part in the campaign for a period of no less than six days.
The recorded numbers on communicable diseases are terrifying, according to World Health Organization recent reports. Yemen recorded more than 22,000 cases of measles in 2022, including 161 deaths. However, since the beginning of 2023 to date, infected cases have risen to 9,418, including the deaths of 77 children.
The restriction of vaccination campaigns which mostly limited to immovable health facilities, coupled with the cessation of integrated community outreach services in all northern governorates, has led to the persistent outbreak of polio and other vaccine-preventable diseases, specifically measles and diphtheria. The current measles outbreak, ongoing since 2019, disproportionately affects children in these areas.
In addition, the number of cases of diphtheria and whooping cough continues to rise, as well as fatalities resulting from each disease, amid a continuing deterioration of the health sector and medical services due to the ongoing conflict in the country. The risk is even higher with the Sana’a authority restricting vaccination campaigns, which will lead to further expansion and difficulty in controlling the spread of such diseases including measles and the polio virus that threatens the lives of children.
Since 2021, 228 children have been paralyzed in Yemen due to a polio outbreak. The number of cases of poliovirus infection in Yemen, which has been almost eradicated worldwide and whose global eradication is within reach, is expected to upsurge.
Risk of deteriorating health conditions
Polio is no longer the only problem in view of consequences of the ongoing conflict, the spread of malnutrition, and widespread food and medicine shortages contribute to the outbreak of this disease - which is among the many diseases that can be prevented by vaccines - is one of the most prominent challenges in Yemen that can be easily solved.
United Nations organizations have intensified their warnings during the recent period about the seriousness of the health situation in Yemen, with the deterioration of health services and facilities, in view of the country’s need for extra and continuous support from international donors to provide the minimum number of health services. This is critical to prevent the imaginable collapse of the health system, which without support will not be able to reach about 39.5% of the population, while prioritizing the access of vulnerable population groups to primary health care services, especially in remote and conflict-affected areas in Yemen, where these services are most needed.
The World Health Organization stresses the need to maintain a minimum level of immunization against recurrent and rapidly spreading infectious diseases, including Covid-19, measles, diphtheria, and vaccine-derived poliovirus type 2. Sustaining and strengthening local capacities to detect, assess and contain vector-borne and water-borne diseases, including malaria, dengue fever and cholera.
In addition to that, adequate nutrition surveillance and the continuity of life-saving medical and nutritional care for Yemeni infants and children, especially those suffering from acute malnutrition accompanied by other medical complications shall be ensured. Besides, resuming the delivery of essential fuel, oxygen and medicines, and improve water, sanitation and hygiene services for infection prevention and control in operational and targeted health facilities across Yemen.
While multiple measles and polio vaccination campaigns have been implemented in the southern governorates of Yemen over the past two years, the ongoing stagnation in the northern governorates regarding supplementary immunization activities puts children there particularly at risk. The restriction of vaccination campaigns which mostly limited to immovable health facilities, coupled with the cessation of integrated community outreach services in all northern governorates, has led to the persistent outbreak of polio and other vaccine-preventable diseases, specifically measles and diphtheria. The current measles outbreak, ongoing since 2019, disproportionately affects children in these areas.
United Nations organizations stress the significance of the current immunization campaign, as Dr. Arturo Pesigan, the representative of the World Health Organization in Yemen, and Peter Hawkins, the representative of UNICEF, affirmed their commitment to support these joint efforts.
“Our commitment to the children of Yemen is unwavering, and we stand united with the government to strengthen the immunization program as the cornerstone of primary health care services towards achieving comprehensive health coverage,” Pesigan said.
Peter Hawkins, UNICEF Representative in Yemen, also warned: “Measles may be fatal, but vaccinating children against it can save their lives. The vaccine is safe and effective.” Hawkins renewed his call to everyone “to participate and ensure that every child between the ages of 6 months and 5 years is vaccinated.”
It is worth noting that the two UN organizations, by unifying their efforts and resources, aim to increase vaccine coverage, protect vulnerable communities, and prevent the spread of infectious diseases in Yemen in the future.