The United Nations said on Tuesday that it was suspending plans for a cholera vaccination campaign in Yemen — reversing a decision made a month ago — because the disease’s rampant spread and the ravages of war there would make such an effort ineffective.
Jamie McGoldrick, the United Nations aid coordinator in Yemen, said plans for preventive vaccination were being “set aside.” He attributed the change to obstacles in delivering vaccines in the middle of a conflict that has crippled the country’s health system and hampered access to some areas threatened by the contagious disease.
Christian Lindmeier, a spokesman for the World Health Organization, told reporters the vaccine doses originally designated for shipment to Yemen would probably be sent to other countries threatened by cholera, where they could be used more effectively.
The surprise disclosure, made at a regular news briefing at the United Nations headquarters in Geneva, came as the number of Yemenis afflicted with cholera reached 313,000 and the death toll exceeded 1,700.
Aid groups say the outbreak, which began this spring, has deepened a humanitarian crisis caused by a civil war that has raged for more than two years between a Saudi-led military coalition and Houthi insurgents backed by Iran, Saudi Arabia’s regional rival.
Cholera, a highly contagious malady spread by water contaminated with human waste, can cause fatal dehydration if left untreated.
A vaccination effort in Yemen, Mr. Lindmeier said, is a “difficult approach because you can’t plan a campaign like you would do in a normal country” where war and insecurity are absent.
The war has killed about 10,000 people and created the risk of a widespread famine in Yemen, the Arab world’s poorest country. Nearly three million people are acutely malnourished and nearly 10 million are in need of urgent humanitarian support, Mr. McGoldrick said.
“Cholera is today’s crisis, famine is tomorrow’s crisis,” Mr. McGoldrick said.
International aid organizations struggling to cope with a severe shortage of funds as well as the conditions of conflict around the country are now diverting resources from nutrition programs to help curb cholera.
“All of this is entirely man-made — this is a result of the conflict,” Mr. McGoldrick added, urging countries that are supporting the antagonists with arms deliveries to exert more influence.
The World Health Organization’s new director general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus of Ethiopia, was scheduled to brief the United Nations Security Council on the situation in Yemen via a videoconference on Wednesday.