Yemen’s Ministry of Health, the World Health Organisation and Unicef have teamed up to carry out a six-day campaign to vaccinate 2.4 million children against polio in 12 regions under government control.
A medical team of more than 12,000 will go door-to-door in residential areas, nurseries and schools to reach children under 10.
”This is the first out of three phases which will take place this year where the 2.4 million children will be targeted, due to the return of polio,” Dr Qassem Buhaibah, Minister of Public Health and Population, told reporters at the launch on Saturday.
"The second campaign will be carried out within the next month and the third one is scheduled after the coming Ramadan,” Deputy Health Minister Eshraq Al Subaie told The National.
"I call upon all influencers including the media, mosque preachers and parents, to help the vaccination teams to achieve the target of the campaign," she added.
Yemen was declared polio-free in 2006 but, after eight years of civil war sparked by the Houthi rebels' takeover of Sanaa in 2014 , the country is once again considered at risk of outbreaks.
The UN estimates that one child dies every 10 minutes from an illness that could have been prevented by vaccination.
Last year, Unicef, the WHO and the Ministry of Health launched a similar door-to-door campaign across 14 Yemeni regions where three million children aged under 5 were vaccinated and received a vitamin A supplement.
Since 2019, 35 children have been paralysed by the poliovirus, mostly in Saada province, which is under Houthi control.
Upon declaring a polio outbreak in Yemen in 2020, the UN children's agency said Saada, which has low levels of routine immunisation, “has been inaccessible to the polio programme for more than two years”.
Saada also has one of the country’s largest populations of internally displaced people, hosting an estimated 306,000 civilians, or about 33 per cent of the region's population, the Reach humanitarian group said in a report last March.
"The Houthi authorities have rejected polio vaccination campaigns in provinces under their control since they took control over the northern territory in 2015," a health official based in northern Yemen told The National on condition of anonymity.
"They usually prevent international organisations from carrying out the campaigns under trivial pretexts or warn parents of [false] health consequences behind the vaccine so they don't administer them to their children,” the official said.
Since then, more cases of polio have been detected in Taez in Yemen’s south-west and in Marib, north-east of Sanaa, the WHO said in a report in December.
Children in Taez and Marib had not been vaccinated against the disease.
”The two districts do not share a border and are approximately 430 kilometres apart,” the WHO said.
”This is a new emergence [of the virus].”