Cholera Outbreak in War-Torn Yemen Spreading at ‘Unprecedented’ Speed


Human Wrongs Watch

As war-torn Yemen grapples with heavy rains, a collapsed healthcare system and crippled economy, a resurgent cholera outbreak has spread with “unprecedented” speed and taken medical professionals by surprise, the World Health Organization on 19 May 2017 warned.

There has been an unprecedented surge in cholera cases in Yemen, with over 23,400 suspected cases and 242 deaths reported in 18 governorates. Photo: WHO Yemen

According to WHO, more than 240 people have died from cholera in just the last three weeks, out of a total of 23,400 infections. The agency estimates that 7.6 million people live in areas at high risk of cholera transmission.

“I have to admit that when I see the data that I saw this morning, not officially released; are really taking us by surprise. The speed of the resurgence of the cholera epidemic is unprecedented” said Dr. Nevio Zagaria, the WHO representative in Yemen speaking to UN News in Geneva.

The current disease outbreak has its roots in an original episode last October. It peaked in December 2016 and never fully went away, amid conflict between Government and Houthi-backed opposition forces that has left over half the country’s medical facilities closed or damaged, and the economy in freefall.

The lack of local health centres – and the fact that staff haven’t been paid in seven months – have left Yemenis with no option but to seek help from hospitals, which WHO says are now “overwhelmed.”

Additional problems include massive damage to the country’s sewage and electricity infrastructure, which have left the water supply contaminated. A WHO map showing cholera hotspots in Yemen indicates the highest number of suspected cases – more than 6,000 – in the capital city, Sana’a.

Few communities have been left untouched by the disease, which is characterized by severe diarrhoea that can kill within hours, if not treated promptly.

In some places the fatality rate is as high as four to five per cent, and WHO is extremely concerned that the disease is being passed from one person to another.

“But if the transmission goes on at this speed, we need to revise the figure and we need to expect something that can go up over 200, 250,000 cases over the next six months, in addition to the 50,000 cases that already occur […] so you can understand by yourself with this number the price we pay in terms of life is extremely high,” explained Dr. Zagaria, adding: “We have to do more.”

In response to the crisis, WHO has begun the task of setting up 350 cholera treatment centres and 2,000 oral rehydration points. It is also focusing on tracing infection hotspots, to reduce the risk of disease transmission.

The agency has stressed that the scale of the threat is “too big” for the Yemeni authorities to do on their own, and that to date only around 20 per cent of its $22 million cholera appeal has been met. (SOURCE: UN).

Read also:

Yemen, World’s Largest Humanitarian Crisis

48 Countries Offer Just Half of Funds Needed to Rescue Two-Thirds of Yemenis

Millions in Yemen on Brink of Famine, Situation ‘Close to a Breaking Point’ 

‘Yemen War Is Genocide’

Yemen At War: Is the World Catching on to Saudi Arabia’s Crimes?

Yemen: 2.1 Billion Dollars Needed to Save Lives of 12 Million People in 2017

Building Resilient Rural Livelihoods, Key to Helping Yemen

‘Yemen on Brink of Famine’ – UN

Arms Trade Treaty Falling Down in Yemen

Millions of Displaced Yemenis Face ‘Humanitarian Catastrophe’ – UNHCR

Malnutrition Among Children in Yemen at ‘All-Time High’

‘An Entire Generation Could Be Crippled by Hunger’ in Yemen

2017 Human Wrongs Watch

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