U.N. calls for greater focus on measles in Somalia

United Nations officials on Tuesday called for greater action to combat measles in Somalia.

Somali health authorities, along with the World Health Organization and the U.N. Children's Fund, have already launched small-scale efforts at combating the disease in Somalia. The WHO and UNICEF said, however, that a national campaign in Somalia is necessary to immunize five million children at a cost of about $9 million.

"We know there have been extremely low immunization rates among Somali children and we need to urgently ensure as many as possible are vaccinated," Ghulam Popal, the Somali representative for the WHO, said.

More than 1,350 suspected cases of measles were recorded in Somalia during March and April of this year, more than quadruple the amount from the same time in 2013. Approximately 1,000 cases were recorded in May alone.

"This is extremely alarming," Popal said. "There is a very poor health care system due to the years of conflict."

Approximately 20 percent of children in Somalia die before the age of five, with measles as one of the primary causes.

The WHO said that up to 10 percent of children who contract measles die from complications related to the disease, especially in emergency situations like that in Somalia.