Yemen’s effort to stop a deadly measles outbreak

Yemen is reporting encouraging results so far in a national campaign aimed at stopping the most deadly measles outbreak in years.

In the first phase of the campaign from 10-15 March, health workers planned to protect 1.5 million kids living in the areas worst affected by the outbreak.

“There was a lot of energy around the campaign,” reports Dr. Gamilah Hibatullah, a UNICEF Health Officer who monitored the effort in and around Aden.

Families in Aden have been amongst the most affected by the outbreak, which has killed 126 children and caused illness in at least 3600 since October 2011.

“People here are aware of the measles related mortality amongst children and I saw parents (both fathers and mothers) waiting in long queues to vaccinate their children in the city health facilities and temporary fixed points for vaccination including schools,” says Dr. Hibatullah.

He continues: “There were boys as young as eleven and twelve years accompanying their younger siblings to the vaccination points and encouraging them to be bold whilst being vaccinated. This was so moving.”

Yemen had been on track to stop measles transmission, but insecurity in 2011 directly resulted in perilous drops in vaccination coverage, leaving children vulnerable to measles and other vaccine-preventable diseases like polio. The measles outbreak is especially devastating to children who are malnourished.

Partners in the Measles Initiative including the World Health Organization and UNICEF, along with USAID are supporting Yemen’s Ministry of Health to vaccinate more than 8 million children from ages 6 months to 10 years.

Alison Parker, UNICEF’s Chief of Communication and Advocacy in Yemen, says coverage in the first phase was about 90%.

The next phase of the $9 million campaign begins on 31 March, when 26,000 vaccinators will fan out to health facilities, schools and some mosques to vaccinate another 6.8 million kids.

(Thanks to Alison Parker and her colleagues at UNICEF Yemen and to Dr. Osama Mere at WHO Yemen for the information, updates and photos about this critical campaign.)

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