Yemen seeing 'alarming' rise in measles cases, Doctors Without Borders say
Humanitarian medical care group Doctors Without Borders (MSF) have said they have seen an "alarming" rise in the number of cases of measles in war-torn Yemen this year.
Almost 4,000 patients were treated for measles at MSF facilities across Yemen in the first half of 2023 – almost triple the caseload they saw last year, the organisation said in a press release Thursday.
MSF said low immunisation rates and rising malnutrition – both exacerbated by the nine years of shattering war in the country – are playing a major role in the rise in cases of measles, a disease that predominantly affects children under the age of five.
These factors, as well as difficulty in accessing healthcare facilities, are making it harder for people to seek early treatment for the measles – with more than half of the cases of measles being seen at MSF treatment centres "complicated", the organisation said.
"The dramatic increase we’ve seen this year cannot be ignored, it is increasing the strain on medical facilities, which are already overloaded," Caroline Ducarme, MSF Head of Mission in Yemen told The New Arab.
"These are not just numbers we’re talking about – they’re children’s lives."
Measles is a highly contagious viral infection that can spread easily. Though it can be deadly, it is preventable through vaccinations.
According to the UN, Yemen recorded more than 22,000 measles cases in 2022, including 161 deaths.
In the first half of 2023, a total of 25,935 suspected cases of measles had been reported, the UN said. At least 77 children had died of measles by May 2023.
In the "complicated" cases seen at MSF facilities this year, only 12 percent of people had been vaccinated before admission, in what the NGO said offered "a bleak illustration of the low level of immunisation".
"This lack of immunisation appears to be driven by logistical barriers, including the restrictions on humanitarian imports, the number of health facilities able to provide vaccinations, as well as an absence of health education to highlight the essential role vaccines play in protecting people from diseases like measles," the MSF press release read.
Other vaccine-preventable diseases including diphtheria and whooping cough are also on the rise, in Yemen, MSF said.
Economic hardship fuelled by almost a decade of war between a Saudi-led coalition and the Iran-backed Houthi rebels has made it extremely difficult for people in remote areas to pay for fuel or transport to take sick children to healthcare facilities that are now few and far between.
Though all-out warfare in Yemen has receded, hopes of a formal, lasting peace deal that might end humanitarian blockades and make access to healthcare facilities easier are still faint.
Hundreds of thousands of people have been killed directly and indirectly in the fighting in Yemen, resulting in one of the world's worst humanitarian crises.
The war has displaced 4.5 million Yemenis internally and pushed more than two-thirds of the population into poverty.
"Despite the decrease in the intensity of the conflict, the cost of over nine years of war is still falling on the people of Yemen. With millions still displaced – often multiple times-a collapsed economy and public services, and millions relying on aid, Yemen is a critical humanitarian crisis that needs the world’s attention," Ducarme said.
"The entire health system is relying on international aid, which is decreasing more and more, increasing the pressure on MSF-supported or run facilities."