The World Health Organization is spearheading a nationwide polio vaccination drive in conflict-ridden Yemen to immunize more than five million children under age five against this crippling disease.
Yemen has been polio free since 2006. Efforts are underway to try to make sure children in this war-torn country remain free of this potentially deadly disease.
But it will not be easy. WHO spokeswoman, Fadela Chaib, says thousands of local volunteers are putting their lives on the line as they go door to door to reach and immunize more than five million young children against polio.
She told VOA there are no so-called “days of tranquility.” She says the guns will not fall silent during this nationwide vaccination campaign.
“So, what they do is they will look at the geography of the country and try to target places where it is possible to go with the maximum of security,” Chaib explained. “And, what we usually do with our partners is talk to the local authorities, religious ones or the parties in conflict to try to secure a maximum of security for our staff and volunteers.”
Chaib agrees the challenges ahead are daunting, but says they can be overcome. She notes two polio vaccination campaigns took place last year and the expectation is that this one also will be successful.
She says it is critical for Yemeni children to be vaccinated as many are weakened by malnutrition and lack safe water and sanitation. She adds such children are particularly susceptible to becoming paralyzed by polio.
It will be two years at the end of March since the Saudi Arabian coalition began its devastating airstrikes in support of the Yemeni government against the Houthi rebels. The United Nations says children are among the main victims of this crisis.
It reports more than two million children are acutely malnourished, a condition that can lead to death or to stunting, which impairs physical and mental development.