The United Nations and Ethiopia's government are beginning a massive vaccination campaign against measles for Somali refugee children as fears rise about an outbreak effecting those already weakened by famine.
The U.N. refugee agency chief in Ethiopia, Moses Okello, said in a statement Saturday he was "shaken" by the situation he saw during a visit this week to the Dollo Ado refugee camps in south-eastern Ethiopia. He said it was urgent to act immediately.
The statement said on Thursday alone, around 13 people are believed to have died from measles in the Kobe refugee camp, and more cases have been reported in other camps nearby.
Measles is not typically deadly for people who are otherwise healthy, but the highly contagious virus is far more dangerous for people suffering from severe malnutrition. The U.N. said children are the most affected.
The U.N. says it has begun efforts to vaccinate children between six months and 15 years old - so far about 300 children received the shot as they were transferred from a transit center to a new camp. The refugee agency says it, along with government and NGO partners, will begin a major campaign Tuesday to vaccinate all children at the Kobe camp, which has been most affected. Health workers have also created an "isolation ward" for those suspected to be infected, in the hopes of containing the disease's spread.
The vaccine provides immunity starting 14 days after being administered.
The U.N. has declared a famine in five regions of southern Somalia, and it predicts famine conditions will spread to more areas and could last until December.
Hundreds of thousands of Somalis have fled to Somalia's capital or to crowded camps in Kenya and Ethiopia in search of food and water.
The United Nations says drought has left more than 12 million people across the Horn of Africa in need of food aid. The U.N. has appealed for $1.4 billion to help the victims.