Yemen facing serious cholera outbreak

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Yemen has been torn apart with violence that has led to widespread famine and now it has another demon to face. International health authorities last Saturday announced that the world now faces one of its worst cholera outbreaks.

Vibrio cholerae, Gram-negative bacteria. 3D illustration of bacteria with flagella. Image Credit: ktsdesign - Shutterstock
Vibrio cholerae, Gram-negative bacteria. 3D illustration of bacteria with flagella. Image Credit: ktsdesign - Shutterstock

According to Anthony Lake, executive director of UNICEF and Margaret Chan, director-general of the World Health Organization, those affected are in hundreds thousands at an estimate of 200,000 with around 5,000 new cases being added each day. There have been over 1300 deaths they said and the numbers are on the rise. Over a quarter of these deaths are of children say the health authorities. It is estimated that unless corrected, over 500,000 could be ill with cholera.

Mohamed El Montassir Hussein, Yemen director for the International Rescue Committee, warned that the area affected is increasing with almost the whole country being affected as the disease spreads. The misery, Hussein said is in each family all over the country, if not cholera, it is malnutrition in the children, absence of food, someone in the family joining the rebels or military or having children as soldiers. There is a “collapse of the social life” he explained due to multiple reasons. This could be a direct result of the war and nearly two years of civil war. Even during this health care crisis there are an overwhelming number of health care workers who are overloaded with patients but have not been paid for over 10 months now.

According to a UNICEF spokesperson, the healthcare system of Yemen has collapsed as a result of the civil wars. It began since the Houthi rebels took over the power and removed the President who had to escape to Saudi Arabia. It is since then that the Saudi-led coalition along with United States has been fighting the rebels. The problems of the population as a result do not seem to go away and is just intensifying. According to aid agencies, there is a another big problem that is killing many – lack of food. Over 17 million are suffering from food insecurity in Yemen and seven million have a severe shortage of food. By end of this year there is a risk of a full famime say aid agencies.

Saudi Arabia is providing all the support it can with the new crown prince of SA, Mohammed bin Salman recently authorized a $66 million donation that would support the cholera fighting machinery of UNICEF and WHO in Yemen. According to the UNICEF statement, this contribution would be discussed along with the King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Centre. It will help thousands of children affected with cholera the statement said. Both Lake from UNICEF and Chan from WHO emphasize that the disease is spreading rapidly and response needs to be urgent too.

The preventive measures such as clean water, access to hygienic sanitation and medical treatment of the affected cases are of utmost importance they said. Yemen authorities have also been asked to look at their own internal efforts and strengthen them in order to prevent new cases and treat the existing ones.

According to a UNICEF representative, the cases of cholera are reducing in 77 of Yemen’s 333 districts due to the provision of the life-saving package of integrated measures that treat and also prevent spread of the infection.

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Written by

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Dr. Ananya Mandal is a doctor by profession, lecturer by vocation and a medical writer by passion. She specialized in Clinical Pharmacology after her bachelor's (MBBS). For her, health communication is not just writing complicated reviews for professionals but making medical knowledge understandable and available to the general public as well.

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