GENEVA (Reuters) – The first cholera vaccine campaign in Yemen has begun 18 months after the war and a sanitary crisis triggered an epidemic, but the World Health Organization said it has not yet received a nationwide vaccination permit.
Some senior Houthi officials, whose forces control the capital, Sanaa, have objected to vaccination, and this has already delayed the program by nearly a year, helpers say.
Yemen has more than one million suspected cases of cholera, and since November 2016, 2,275 deaths have been reported, according to the WHO.
The oral vaccination campaign, which started on Sunday in four districts of Aden and targeted 350,000 people, coincides with the rainy season, which health workers fear will spread further.
"We have plans to extend these to all vulnerable zones, and we are still negotiating with health authorities in the north of the country in Sana'a to plan these campaigns," said Michael Ryan, WHO Deputy Director-General, said on Monday ,
"So far we have not created any data for these campaigns, but we are ready to move … as soon as we get the necessary permits," he added.
WHO cholera expert Lorenzo Pizzoli said on Sunday in a Tweet from Aden that the campaign hopes to provide at least four million people in vulnerable areas.
Fecal matter transfers the disease to sewage that contaminates water or food and can kill it because patients quickly lose fluid through vomiting and diarrhea.
Caught early, it can be treated with oral rehydration salts.
"Cholera is still there and this is the classic situation where we had a big first wave last year and we expect another wave this year, this wave could be as big or maybe even bigger," said Ryan ,
Water sanitation and treatment systems have been destroyed in many parts of Yemen, and access to health care remains extremely limited, he added.
The Yemen War, a proxy conflict between Iran-oriented Houthis and the internationally recognized government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, backed by a Saudi-led alliance, has killed more than 10,000 people since 2015 and more than two distributed million.
In July 2017, the International Coordination Group on Vaccines – which manages global stocks – has earmarked one million cholera vaccines for Yemen. However, the WHO and local authorities decided to delete a vaccination plan for logistical and technical reasons and the doses were diverted to South Sudan.
The largest cholera vaccination campaign in history involving more than two million people across Africa is now being conducted in five countries – Zambia, Uganda, Malawi, South Sudan and Kenya – said WHO and GAVI Vaccine Alliance on Monday.
Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Arrangement by Gareth Jones