LONDON: Houthi militia have consistently prevented doses of cholera vaccine from reaching those in desperate need of treatment in Yemen, according to an Associated Press investigation published on Tuesday.
The investigation into efforts to fight the disease in the country — the worst cholera outbreak recorded in modern times and one that medical researchers say may have been avoided if vaccines had been deployed sooner — drew on confidential documents and interviews with 29 people.
The people included aid officials and officials from health ministries run by both the Iranian-backed Houthis and the legitimate government.
Almost all of these individuals, including six relief and health officials who say the Houthis were responsible for cancelation of a 2017 vaccine shipment of half a million doses, spoke on condition of anonymity.
The 2017 shipment was unable to enter northern Yemen until May 2018 because the Houthis refused to allow the vaccines to be delivered, after spending months demanding the UN to send ambulances and medical equipment for their forces as a condition for accepting the shipment.
The investigation highlighted the fact that the cancelation of the 2017 shipment was just one of the setbacks aid agencies face in battling the cholera epidemic, which has killed nearly 3,000 Yemenis.
“The Houthis are taking advantage of UN weakness,” an aid official told the AP investigation.
“Corruption or aid diversion and all of this are because of the UN’s weak position.”
The first significant cholera outbreak came in late 2016, leading to more than 25,000 suspected cases and killing at least 129. Soon after, in April 2017, the disease erupted again, this time spreading at an even more furious pace. Within two months, more than 185,000 suspected cases and 1,200 deaths were reported.
According to the AP report, when UN officials attempted to get oral vaccines into the country to halt the spread, a number of Houthi officials claimed the vaccines were “ineffective.” Some officials circulated messages on social media claiming that the vaccines would be harmful to children, while other Houthi leaders suggested the vaccination plan was a “plot by the US and Israel to use Yemenis as guinea pigs.”
A former Houthi Health Ministry official told AP that the concerns were just a ruse, and that the militia leaders had list of demands they wanted met in a bid to bargain with UN officials for money and equipment, he said.
(With Associated Press)