Health workers recently fanned across Yemen to vaccinate millions of children against polio, one of the disease risks in a country immersed in conflict.
In Yemen, forces loyal to the internationally backed Yemeni government are battling Houthi rebels and their supporters. The conflict is making the already poor country even more vulnerable to infectious diseases with overcrowding in areas and breakdowns in the health system.
“In the last two years, more children have died from preventable diseases than those killed in the violence,” said UNICEF Representative in Yemen Meritxell Relano.
In February, the World Health Organization, working with local and religious officials, launched a campaign to vaccinate 5 million children under 5 to prevent polio from re-emerging. For the most part, Yemen has been free of polio since 2009 but has reported a handful of cases in 2011, 2012 and 2013. The disease can cause irreversible paralysis.
About 40,000 people deployed across the country, including areas on the front lines, to administer the polio vaccinations. They completed their work last month.
In the mountainous, rocky areas where vehicles couldn’t reach, health workers used donkeys, which carried containers of vaccines and small generators to keep them cold on their backs.
The fighting in Yemen has displaced about 3 million people since the conflict began in March 2015, according to U.N. estimates.
The International Organization for Migration on Tuesday called Yemen “the world’s largest humanitarian crisis” with more than 18 million people in need of humanitarian or protection assistance.