Hopes that disease spread might be slowing
A massive outbreak of cholera has hit Yemen in the past two months, with almost 220,000 suspected cases and 5,000 new cases each day. According to the UN, more than 1400 victims have already died, including hundreds of children.
“In just two months, cholera has spread to almost every part of this war-torn country,” the UN said in a statement. “We are now facing the worst cholera outbreak in the world.”
Cholera is caused by a bacterial infection of the intestine that leads to severe diarrhea and vomiting. Those stricken die from dehydration.
“The prompt administration of oral rehydration salts to replace lost fluids nearly always results in a cure,” the World Health Organization (WHO) wrote in a report.
The problem is that a civil war in Yemen has torn the country since 2014. It has become a violent proxy war between two regional powers – the Iran-backed Houthi rebels against the Saudi Arabia-backed central government. The UN says more than 10,000 have been killed and close to three million Yemenis have been forced to leave their homes.
In recent weeks, Saudi Arabia, backed by the US, has stepped up its activity in Yemen with more ground troops and airstrikes. Earlier this month, a Saudi airstrike on a market in northern Yemen killed 25 Yemenis.
The fighting has destroyed much of the country’s infrastructure, which makes cholera much harder to fight. The UN says that more than 14.5 million people – more than half the country’s total population – have lost access to clean water and sanitation because of the war.
“UNICEF, WHO and our partners are racing to stop the acceleration of this deadly outbreak. We are working around the clock to detect and track the spread of disease and to reach people with clean water, adequate sanitation and medical treatment. Rapid response teams are going house-to-house to reach families with information about how to protect themselves by cleaning and storing drinking water,” UNICEF spokesperson Najwa Mekki told The Media Line.
Mekki said the government of Yemen, and the international community must do more to end the fighting and stop the spread of cholera.
“This deadly cholera outbreak is the direct consequence of two years of heavy conflict. Collapsing health, water and sanitation systems have cut off 14.5 million people from regular access to clean water and sanitation, increasing the ability of the disease to spread,” she said. “Rising rates of malnutrition have weakened children’s health and made them more vulnerable to disease. An estimated 30,000 dedicated local health workers who play the largest role in ending this outbreak have not been paid their salaries for nearly 10 months.
The WHO says they are hopeful that the spread of the disease may be slowing down. But fatality rates have dropped from 1.7 percent in early May to 0.6 percent now, according to WHO’s senior emergency adviser for Yemen, Ahmed Zouiten. He attributed the fall to emergency intervention by health workers. Reported cases of cholera have also dropped in recent days with 39,000 over the past week compared with an average of 41,000 in previous weeks. But Zouiten cautioned that the decline in numbers might be due to underreporting over the Muslim Eid al-Fitr holiday.
The WHO said the total number of cases could still reach 300,000 by September. Fewer than half of Yemen’s hospitals are still functioning.