Vaccines Protect Children from Deadly Diseases and Safeguard Future Generations
Around 1,400 children in Yemen were suspected of having measles
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Between January and July 2022, around 1,400 children in Yemen were suspected of having measles, and 15 died of the disease in 7 governorates, including Aden.
“My greatest regret is losing my daughter to a disease that could have been prevented with a free vaccine.” Fadhel Ali Hassan’s feeling is shared by far too many parents in Yemen.
Although the nearest health center is only half an hour away from Fadhel's home, his twin baby girls were unvaccinated and contracted measles. As their health conditions quickly deteriorated over the course of three days, and their painful skin rashes and fevers intensified, only one of them survived the trip to the hospital.
Measles is a highly contagious viral disease that is prevalent in children. Measles causes painful skin rashes, sore eyes, fever, stiff muscles, and severe coughing for almost everyone who contracts the virus. Children with malnutrition are the most vulnerable.
“Our oversight, negligence, and failure to vaccinate our children exposed them to a deadly disease and we are so sorry that it happened. We have learned the most painful lesson that life could have taught us. We had to watch our baby die before our eyes, and there was nothing we could do at that point,” regrets Fadhel.
In response to the latest outbreak of polio and measles, UNICEF and their partners helped the Ministry of Public Health to target children ages 0-10 for polio vaccination and 6-month to 10- year-olds with measles vaccines.
Fifty-three-year-old Entisar Ali Hussein is the Reproductive Health and Immunization Officer at Al-Farsi Health Center, in Aden, and has been working on immunization and vaccination campaigns for the past 37 years. “I focus on educating guardians about the importance of vaccinating their children to protect them from deadly diseases, and I make home visits to vaccinate children who are unable to get to the health center,” she explains.
After her own child became ill and was on the verge of dying from a preventable virus, she made it her life’s mission to educate others. Even though Entisar has had many successes throughout her nearly four-decade-long career, her greatest barriers have been stigma, myths, and rumors about vaccine safety and effectiveness: “Sometimes we are expelled from people’s homes during our door-to-door campaigns, and are left to live with the knowledge that those children will likely contract a deadly, debilitating disease.”
Education Can Save Lives
Health literacy and prevention are critical in reducing disease burden. By raising awareness and educating the public, Yemenis can shift their social practices, change cultural beliefs, and protect the health and well-being of future generations. For Entisar, “vaccine awareness has a shaping effect on a community’s response efforts. It helps to dispel myths; changes attitudes; and equips the public to deal with vaccine-related complications.”
In a country with alarmingly high numbers of preventable childhood deaths, immunization programs play a vital role in saving lives. According to UNICEF, over 1.2 million children aged 6 months to 10 years old received their measles, mumps, and rubella vaccines during the June 2022 response campaign in Southern Yemen.