Efforts to enhance the COVID-19 response continue while challenges persist
By 26 September, 2,034 confirmed cases of COVID-19 had been reported in Yemen, 588 deaths and 1,262 recoveries in 11 governorates since the first case was reported on 10 April 2020. In the month to 26 September, only 72 new cases were reported, 21 deaths, and 129 recoveries. While the number of reported cases has continued to slow, health professionals remain concerned that the official epi curve underestimates the extent of COVID-19 in Yemen for reasons that include a lack of testing facilities and official reporting. The suspension of operations at Sana’a International Airport on 9 September is an additional major obstruction to the COVID-19 response, delaying the arrival of COVID-19 experts, critical medical and other humanitarian supplies, including 207 MT of COVID-19 response equipment. Despite these setbacks, partners continue to work to improve the response, including by increasing surveillance, screening and testing capacity; identifying innovative ways of encouraging behavioural change; boosting intensive care unit facilities; and improving data by working closely with the authorities.
Partners respond to polio and measles outbreaks as vaccination levels fall
Fifteen children have been paralyzed in a polio outbreak in several districts in Sa’ada Governorate in northern Yemen. Between 31 January and 18 June, 14 cases were identified–children aged between 8 months and 13 years were identified with another case confirmed retrospectively from June 2019.
In parallel, 20 cases of measles cases have been reported in several districts in Sa’ada Governorate since the beginning of the year, including in Sahar District (11 cases) and Alsafrah District (7 cases). Cases were also reported in the neighbouring governorates of Amran (9 cases), Hajjah (10 cases) and Al Jawf (1 case). Forty-seven per cent of confirmed cases reported countrywide were in these four governorates.
Both outbreaks are the direct consequence of increasingly low levels of immunity among children. The 15 polio cases in Sa’ada are clustered in an area with very low routine immunization rates. Immunization and the delivery of healthcare have long been disrupted by the conflict and the COVID-19 pandemic has further exacerbated the situation, fueling a significant decline in immunization rates. WHO and UNICEF teams at the country and regional levels are supporting the health authorities in Yemen to mount a rapid response to the outbreaks. Affected children are being traced, and every effort is being made to ensure more children access essential immunization.
Vaccination remains the only way to protect children from polio and measles but unimpeded access to children is crucial to deliver healthcare and protect children from vaccine-preventable diseases. Efforts to secure vaccines are ongoing. However, the suspension of Sana'a airport has delayed the arrival of more than 2 million doses of the polio vaccine scheduled to arrive early in September, putting lives at risk. In a joint statement on 11 September, WHO’s Regional Director for the Eastern Mediterranean Region, Dr. Ahmed Al Mandhari, and UNICEF’s Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa Region, Ted Chaiban, urged the authorities to allow immediate access for polio vaccinations, "We call upon all stakeholders, especially parties to conflict and those with influence over them, to facilitate unimpeded and sustainable humanitarian access to health workers to be able to reach every child with polio vaccine."
Success in reducing the number of suspected cholera cases jeopardized by funding shortage
A total of 182,476 suspected cholera cases were reported during the first 8 months of 2020, a 71 per cent reduction compared with the same period last year when 623,977 suspected cases were reported. The number of associated deaths is down to 56 in 2020, a 93 per cent reduction on the 862 deaths reported in the same period last year.
Health partners continue to support health authorities in Yemen to respond to cholera, including with case management; surveillance and laboratory investigations; hotspot mapping, planning for oral cholera vaccine (OCV) campaigns; WASH services; and risk communications. As with other aspects of the health response, the cholera response faces a series of challenges, including a lack of resources and suspension of incentive payments for medical staff, a reduction in health-seeking behaviours due to COVID-19, and delays to the shipment of OCVs.