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Life-Saving Diphtheria Vaccination Campaign Remains Stalled in Yemen


Nahla Arishi, a pediatrician, checks a woman infected with diphtheria at the al-Sadaqa teaching hospital in the southern port city of Aden, Yemen, Dec. 18, 2017.

The World Health Organization reports a nationwide diphtheria vaccination campaign in war-torn Yemen remains stalled because the health authorities have not yet given the go-ahead for this life-saving campaign to begin.

The Saudi-led coalition partially lifted its blockade of Yemen's air and sea ports on December 20. This made it possible for the U.N. children's fund to airlift nearly six million doses of essential vaccines to protect millions of children at risk of preventable diseases.

The supplies include doses of anti-diphtheria vaccines for 2.7 million children and adults up to the age of 25. The vaccines meant to immunize people against the diphtheria epidemic and stop its rapid spread throughout the country remain unused.

Latest official figures put the number of clinically diagnosed cases of diphtheria at 610, including 48 deaths. The World Health Organization says the eight percent fatality rate is alarmingly high.

Diphtheria is a highly infectious, but vaccine-preventable disease.WHO spokesman Christian Lindmeier, told VOA the program should get underway urgently, but negotiations for its start are still ongoing.

"All parties of the conflict need to agree on the ground.Access has to be cleared. The available vaccines have to be agreed upon, in which areas would be priority areas, which groups might be priority areas. So, all this has to be agreed upon for the discussions to reach an agreement ongoing," he said.

The war in Yemen has disrupted routine vaccinations against killer diseases, putting children at great risk. Lindmeier warned any delay in routine or special vaccination campaigns has major consequences for the future.

He said children who are not vaccinated at a young age either will fall sick immediately or in years to come, resulting in many preventable deaths.

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