The international medical aid agency Doctors Without Borders has suspended its measles vaccination campaign near the Somali capital, following intense fighting there.
The measles vaccination campaign was supposed to have lasted for three weeks, reaching 35,000 children in and around the Daynile area on the outskirts of Mogadishu.
Instead, on the sixth day, the campaign was cut short. Only 4,831 children had received their vaccinations at that point.
The head of Doctors Without Borders’ programs in Somalia, Duncan Mclean, says measles combined with malnutrition is the main cause of death among children in Somalia. He says the suspension puts children in the Daynile area at grave risk.
“Any attempt to slowdown the current measles outbreak or epidemic in this part of Somalia will be limited because the only way you can really make a difference is if you get up to 90 percent coverage," said Mclean. "If we stop outreach vaccination, we will simply have a very, very low coverage and the number of measles cases will continue to be spread and consequently increase.”
He says that the conflict has made it impossible for his group to continue the outreach vaccinations.
“Moving beyond the hospital, by putting the teams themselves at risk, the medical staff at risk, they are going to be no good to anyone," said Mclean. "So it really curtails what we can do beyond the basic activity within the structures [of the hospital].”
Heavy clashes between militant group al-Shabab and forces of Somalia's Transitional National Government, backed by the African Union Mission in Somalia, broke out last week in Daynile.
Doctors Without Borders reports that its teams at Daynile Hospital treated 83 people on Thursday and Friday, mostly for wounds from gunshots or explosions.
Also, 24 malnourished children were receiving intensive treatment from the medical aid agency when the clashes broke out. Most of the mothers fled with their children, leaving only six of the 24 children still under care.
Meanwhile, the results of prolonged warfare and drought in Somalia are proving to be a breeding ground for measles. The disease is spread through coughing and sneezing, and tens of thousands of families are living in crowded camps.
Malnourished children are even more susceptible to being infected because of their weakened immune systems. In south-central Somalia, the U.N. children’s agency reports 40 percent of children under the age of five are acutely malnourished.
Overall, the U.N. children’s agency estimates 9,000 cases of measles have been reported in Somalia since January.