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At a glance: Yemen

Yemen: Nationwide immunization campaign seeks to stop polio outbreak

© UNICEF video
Five million Yemeni children will be protected against polio during a massive immunization campaign held from 30 May to 1 June.

By Kun Li

SANA’A, Yemen, 2 June 2005 – The Government of Yemen has organized a nationwide immunization campaign, seeking to reach 5 million children, in order to halt a recent polio outbreak.

Yemen is one of 16 formerly polio-free countries to be reinfected by an epidemic originating in West Africa. Among the factors contributing to the spread of the disease across the African continent and into Yemen have been low immunity levels, conflict and poor sanitation. Within the last two months, polio cases in Yemen have surged from zero to 179.

Protecting children under five

One-year-old Nassema is among the youngest victims of Yemen’s recent polio outbreak. Her parents are heartbroken by their daughter’s illness. Polio has returned to the country unexpectedly - nine years after they thought it had been eradicated.

© UNICEF video
One-year-old Nassema is one of the victims in Yemen’s recent polio outbreak. Her father is saddened by her illness.

“Her mother and I are in a state of sadness,” said Nassema’s father. “When we see children like our daughter who are sick we ask God that they can be cured.”

During the 3-day campaign, which started on 30 May, vaccination teams went door-to-door to immunize children under the age of five. UNICEF provided 6 million doses of polio vaccine to support the campaign. Officials of the Yemen Government were also out in force, encouraging parents to bring their children to be immunized.

Communities across Yemen were actively involved. Imams used PA systems to issue calls for children to be immunized at mosques and mobile health stations. With support from UNICEF, Yemeni National Television sent 21 news teams to the worst-hit districts to document the campaign.

The best way to stop the virus

Experts believe large-scale immunization campaigns like this are the only way to stop the progress of the polio virus. “High levels of routine immunization are the best national defence against reinfection, with particular focus on the poorest communities,” said Thomas McDermott, UNICEF Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa.

© UNICEF video
A group of Yemeni children holding posters used for the polio immunization campaign.

At the conclusion of the 3-day campaign, the Ministry of Health went on national media to reiterate its call to parents whose children might have missed their opportunity to be immunized. These children will be given polio vaccine at health centres which are gearing up to support a sustainable routine immunization programme.

If this and other immunization campaigns go well, UNICEF and its partners are confident that the new epidemic can be contained. But funds for additional campaigns are running dangerously low. Another $50 million is needed to support polio eradication efforts for the rest of this year. As long as polio is still at large, any unimmunized child is at risk.




2 June 2005:
UNICEF New York correspondent Kun Li reports on the Yemen polio immunization campaign.

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