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CERF funding will support a measles immunization programme to protect millions of vulnerable children in Yemen. Credit: UNICEF

As measles threatens to become the leading killer of children in Yemen, CERF provides US$5 million for a national immunization campaign.

The UN Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) has allocated almost US$5 million to support a national immunization campaign to protect 7.9 million Yemeni children under age 10 from a deadly measles outbreak.

Measles has re-emerged in epidemic proportions in Yemen, claiming the lives of more than 155 children under age 5 in Yemen since the middle of last year. A total of 3,800 new measles cases were reported between January 2011 and early March 2012. If left unchecked, the epidemic could infect an estimated 30,000 children and cause 5,000 deaths per year, according to an OCHA Humanitarian Bulletin published earlier this month.

 

CERF funding will provide $2.4 million to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and $2.6 million to the World Health Organization (WHO) in support of a national health campaign to stem the measles outbreak. To increase cost-effectiveness, the vaccine programme will include measles, polio and vitamin A supplements. Increasing immunity to polio is a priority in Yemen because cases of the wild polio virus are increasing in neighbouring countries. Lack of vitamin A significantly increases the risk of illness and death from common childhood infections. 

 

“This money will help prevent the deaths of thousands of Yemeni children,” said Mr. Geert Cappelaere, UNICEF Representative in Yemen. UNICEF will use the funds to buy vaccines and implement the immunization jointly with WHO and Yemeni partners.  

 

Victims of a broken health system

 

WHO says measles outbreaks can be particularly deadly in countries recovering from conflict. In Yemen, conflict and insecurity have caused extensive damage to public health services over the past year, and interrupted the routine immunization of children. 

 

Overcrowding in shelters for internally displaced persons, lack of clean water and sanitation facilities, and high malnutrition rates among young children also increase the risk of infection and reduce the ability to fight it. Yemen has the world’s second-highest rate of chronic malnutrition in children after Afghanistan, with nearly two thirds of children suffering from stunting.

 

Initial funding for the immunization programme has been provided by the Government of Yemen, humanitarian partners and CERF. However, additional resources are now needed. The campaign will cost about $29 million, leaving a significant funding gap. 

 

The humanitarian community has requested $447 million through the Consolidated Appeal Process for almost 4 million people in need in Yemen in 2012. Those needs include food, emergency health care and shelter. The appeal’s health-care component is currently only 11 per cent funded.