GENEVA: The United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) on Tuesday said the ongoing conflict in Yemen is having a devastating impact on the country’s health system, and exposing millions of children to the threat of preventable diseases.
“Children are not being vaccinated, either because health centers do not have electricity or the fuel they need to keep vaccines cold and distribute them, or because parents are too frightened by the fighting to take their children to receive vaccinations,” said Peter Salama, UNICEF Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa.
Salama warned the tragic result is that children are going to die of diseases like measles and pneumonia that would normally be preventable.
According to UNICEF, at least 279 children have been killed and 402 injured as a direct result of the conflict which escalated in late March.
The interruption in vaccination services is putting an estimated 2.6 million children aged under 15 at risk of contracting measles, a potentially fatal disease that spreads rapidly in times of conflict and population displacement.
The number of children exposed to Acute Respiratory Infections (ARIs) is likely to reach 1.3 million since the escalation of the conflict in March. Many hospitals and health centers are not functioning properly, making timely treatment increasingly difficult for parents to access.
Meanwhile, over 2.5 million children are at risk of diarrhea due to the unavailability of safe water, poor sanitary conditions and lack of access to Oral Rehydration Salt (ORS) — compared to 1.5 million prior to the conflict.
Malnutrition is also posing a growing threat: UNICEF estimates that more than half a million children under five are at risk of developing severe and acute malnutrition over the next 12 months if the situation continues to deteriorate (as compared to 160,000 before the crisis). Some 1.2 million children under five are at risk of moderate acute malnutrition, a near two-fold increase from before the crisis.
In spite of the extremely challenging environment, UNICEF and partners continue to vaccinate children and deliver care to those who are ill or acutely malnourished. Preventive and nutrition surveillance programs, including mobile health and nutrition teams and localized vaccination campaigns, are in place in the most affected areas to monitor any increase in the numbers of children suffering from a particular communicable illness or malnutrition and to respond accordingly.
These interventions, reinforced with UNICEF and partners’ support to regular distribution and provision of safe water, hygiene and improved sanitation, are critical for preventing a public health crisis.
UNICEF reiterated the UN Secretary General’s call on the parties to the conflict for a ceasefire to facilitate the urgent delivery of humanitarian assistance to those most in need.