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Yemen asks for 'balanced' vaccine donation at UN forum

Yemen has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the world, and suffering related to the COVID-19 pandemic is compounded by the ongoing war in the country.
A man receives a dose of the Oxford-AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine at a vaccination center on the outskirts of Marib province, Yemen, July 7, 2021.

Yemen’s top diplomat is pleading with the international community to send more coronavirus vaccines to war-torn Yemen.

Foreign Minister Ahmed Awad bin Mubarak spoke at the United Nations General Assembly meeting in New York on Monday. He spent much of his speech criticizing the Iran-backed Houthi movement, which is at war with the internationally recognized Yemeni government. Mubarak then turned his attention to the coronavirus pandemic in Yemen, and the country’s lack of vaccines.

“This amount is still insufficient,” said Mubarak of the vaccine doses Yemen has received so far. “We look forward to the donor countries increasing the number of vaccines.”

Yemen first received 360,000 AstraZeneca vaccine doses in March via the global COVAX initiative, whereby countries donate vaccine doses to others. In June, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) also sent 60,000 doses to the Socotra islands, which are controlled by its allies in the Southern Transitional Council. Mubarak thanked the donors during his speech.

Yemen has a population of more than 30 million. The donations to date are far short of the required number of doses to vaccinate a large swath of the Yemeni population. Last week, the humanitarian organization Oxfam said that 99% of Yemenis are not vaccinated.

Mubarak asked the international community to donate vaccine doses “in a balanced way” during his speech, adding that countries suffering from conflict should be prioritized.

There is a large gap in vaccine distribution among Middle Eastern states. The majority of the population in the UAE, Israel and Turkey is vaccinated. Syria, like Yemen, is only at around 1% vaccinated, according to the Oxford-based Our World in Data.

The struggle against COVID-19 in Yemen is complicated by the ongoing war. Much of the health sector is  not fully functional, and large swaths of the population lack sufficient access to food and water. Violence has been particularly intense lately between Houthi forces and the government, which is backed by a Saudi-led coalition.