Nearly 5M Children in War-torn Yemen Get Polio Vaccine

Nearly five million children under age five have been successfully vaccinated against polio in war-torn Yemen almost two-months after a nationwide immunization campaign was launched by the World Health Organization (WHO), the U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Bank.

The campaign, which began on February 20, has taken much longer than usual to complete because of security challenges.  The logistics involved in reaching millions of children with life-saving vaccines in war-torn Yemen are immense and complicated.

WHO spokesman, Tarik Jasarevic, told VOA different parts of the country are controlled by different warring parties.  He said informing them of the campaign, organizing health teams and transporting the polio vaccines takes a lot of time.

“For this campaign, more than 5,000 vehicles have been rented, more than 40,000 health workers were mobilized…. This is a big operation, obviously.  But, with the support of local religious leaders, political leaders, that element is absolutely crucial that it is being accepted by the population and that vaccination teams are being trained and prepared in advance,” he said.

Jasarevic said health workers only recently were able to bring the campaign to Yemen’s Sa’ada governorate.  Despite intensifying violence, he said more than 150,000 children under age five were vaccinated against polio and nearly 370,000 children between the ages of six months and 15 years were immunized against measles there.

He said the war has made routine immunizations in Yemen impossible, making nationwide immunization campaigns against polio and other killer diseases necessary.

“We have seen for example in Syria that polio came back because there were areas where children were not immunized for some time.  We do not want this to happen in Yemen.  Yemen is still polio-free and we want to keep it polio-free and these campaigns are one of the ways to make sure that the virus cannot find a host,” Jasarevic said.  

The United Nations reports Yemen’s two-year-long conflict has all but destroyed the country’s health system.  It says the situation of Yemen’s children continues to worsen and many are dying from preventable diseases.

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