LONDON, Feb 21 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Yemen has
launched a major polio vaccination campaign amid fears the
disease could reappear in the war-ravaged nation where the
health system is on the verge of collapse and aid agencies are
warning of famine.
The World Health Organization (WHO), which is supporting the
drive, said some 40,000 health workers aimed to immunise more
than 5 million children under the age of five across the
"The threat of (polio) virus importation is serious and this
campaign aims to curb any possible return of the virus to
Yemen," WHO's representative in Yemen, Nevio Zagaria, said in a
Polio, which spreads quickly among children and can cause
irreversible paralysis within hours, remains endemic in only
three countries - Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria.
Yemen was declared polio-free in 2009, but experts say
conflict-affected countries are particularly at risk of
outbreaks because of disruption to their health systems.
WHO's spokesman on polio eradication, Sona Bari, said both
Syria and Iraq saw polio outbreaks a few years ago.
"This is why the (Yemen) campaign at this time is extremely
important," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone
"We have been very lucky that polio hasn't shown up in
Yemen, but it is a virus that travels very easily and is very
good at finding unprotected children."
The immunisation drive, which began on Monday, had been
scheduled for last September, but insecurity has hampered
The vaccination teams will also target high-risk groups
including families uprooted from their homes by fighting and
refugees who have fled to Yemen from conflicts in Africa.
Around 2 million people are displaced in Yemen where nearly
two years of civil war has pitted the Iran-allied Houthi group
against a Western-backed Arab coalition led by Saudi Arabia.
The U.N. children's agency UNICEF, which is also helping
with the vaccinations, warned on Tuesday of looming famine in
Yemen where nearly half a million children have severe acute
Bari said there was a risk that polio vaccines would not be
effective in malnourished children suffering from diarrhoea
because they would be flushed out.
She said WHO was also worried about the risks of polio
emerging in countries in the Lake Chad basin, Syria, Iraq,
Somalia and South Sudan.
(Editing by Ros Russell; Please credit the Thomson Reuters
Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, which covers
humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, resilience and
climate change. Visit news.trust.org to see more stories.)