413 children dead from measles in 2023

WHO estimates at least 34,300 measles and rubella cases in the first seven months of the year, up from 27,000 in 2022 (with 220 deaths). Critical issues include an overburdened health care system and low immunization rates. Need to strengthen vaccination campaign. AsiaNews sources: situation still "precarious" for a population experiencing a "painful crisis."

Sana'a (AsiaNews) - In the first seven months of the year there are at least 413 - but the real numbers could be even higher - the children who died of measles in Yemen, confirming a still critical humanitarian situation in the Arab nation battered by a long internal war and by proxy.

Local sources told AsiaNews, anonymously, confirm that economic, health and humanitarian "conditions" remain "precarious" and the population is experiencing a "painful crisis" that does not seem to end, despite the timid attempts of international diplomacy to reach a truce.

"As of July 31 of this year - explains a report by the World Health Organization (WHO) - the number of suspected cases of measles and rubella in Yemen has reached 34,300, while the deaths are at least 413". For the experts of the United Nations agency specialized in health issues, these are rapidly and progressively worsening figures compared to "the 27,000 cases and 220 deaths recorded throughout 2022".

The spread of these potentially lethal diseases - especially in a reality where the health situation presents numerous criticalities - comes in a context of strong deterioration.

Among the effects related to the conflict in Yemen, the WHO note explains, there is a serious "economic decline and low incomes, displacement combined with overcrowding in reception centers, together with an overloaded health system and low immunization rates".

The UN agency works closely with local health authorities and international partners, he adds, to "increase support for routine vaccination campaigns" which also concern measles, a highly contagious viral disease that mainly affects children.

It causes painful skin rashes, sore eyes, fever, muscle stiffness and a strong cough in those who contract the virus, with more serious effects in debilitated or at-risk individuals.

Yemen’s civil war began in September 2014 pitting pro-Iranian Houthi rebels against the country’s Saudi-backed government. After it intensified over the following months, in March 2015, Saudi Arabia intervened, leading a coalition of Arab countries.

Nearly 400,000 people have died in more than eight years of fighting, making it the worst humanitarian crisis in the world according to the UN, compounded by the devastating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic with millions on the brink of starvation and children (11,000 dead) likely to suffer the consequences for decades.

More than three million Yemenis have become internally displaced, mostly surviving in extreme poverty, hunger and epidemics of various kinds, not the least cholera.

In a critical reality, the dearth of information regarding the impact of the epidemic on pregnant women, a high-risk category, becomes a source of further concern. According to WHO-Unicef estimates of national vaccination coverage for 2022, 27 percent of children under one year of age are not vaccinated for measles and rubella.

WHO representative in Yemen, Arturo Pesigan, points out that "the vaccination campaign should target all children under 10 years of age to be comprehensive and effective. However, funding shortages have eroded support and limited the target to children under five, a group with higher mortality rates."

Last year the UN agency oversaw the vaccination of about 913 thousand children from measles and rubella, with a coverage rate as of July 2023 of 65 percent. A national measles and rubella prevention campaign covering 1.2 million children under the age of five is planned for September.

(Unhcr Yemen photo)