Yemen launches measles vaccination campaign after 126 child deaths

The United Nations is backing a major vaccination campaign in Yemen after a new measles outbreak killed at least 126 children under five years of age.

The campaign, which is supported by the World Health Organization and the U.N. Children's Fund, aims to vaccinate an estimated eight million children under 10 years of age. The recent outbreak of measles caused a reported 3,600 cases.

"This situation is unacceptable," Geert Cappelaere, a UNICEF representative, said. "Measles is a preventable disease and Yemen was close to being declared measles free in 2010 with zero deaths."

The disease is currently spreading quickly to highly populated areas in addition to areas that suffer from high acute malnutrition levels.

"Measles is a big killer of children," Ghulam Popal, a WHO representative, said. "Measles can be easily prevented by vaccination. The high rate of malnutrition and diarrhea among children would increase the fatality of measles. Therefore, it's very important to implement the national campaign to prevent thousands of deaths among children."

The campaign will cost $9 million and will be instituted in phases. The first phase will target the regions in the country with the highest reported incidence. The second phase will cover the rest of the country and will be launched at the end of March.

The recent measles outbreak occurred after a drop in immunization rates stemming from the civil strife across Yemen last year. Some areas in the country experienced a decrease in immunization rates by as much as 60 percent, leaving children vulnerable to preventable diseases like measles and polio.