Yemen’s deadly cholera crisis now largest recorded and fastest growing

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Yemen’s cholera crisis has now broken the record number of cases known in a single outbreak in recent history, and looks set to infect more than a million people by Christmas – including more than 600,000 children – Save the Children reported on Wednesday.

The country has been hit by an epidemic of the disease, with the World Health Organisation’s Global Health Observatory saying the disease has spread faster than any recorded case of cholera and now is the largest in modern history.

The WHO reports 815,314 cases of the disease in Yemen as of October 10, along with 2,156 deaths, since April 27.

It has therefore surpassed the 815,000 cases reported over seven years in Haiti – a level which Yemen has reached in just six months.

“Cholera has been around in Yemen for a long time, but we’ve never seen an outbreak of this scale or speed,” said Tamer Kirolos, Save the Children’s country director for Yemen. 

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“It’s what you get when a country is brought to its knees by conflict, when a healthcare system is on the brink of collapse, when its children are starving, and when its people are blocked from getting the medical treatment they need.
“There’s no doubt this is a man-made crisis. Cholera only rears its head when there’s a complete and total breakdown in sanitation. All parties to the conflict must take responsibility for the health emergency we find ourselves in.”
Children are disproportionately affected. Around 4,000 cases are reported daily, the majority among those under the age of 18. Some 25 percent of those infected and 16 percent of those who die are under the age of five, according to the WHO.

In August, Save the Children released a study showing that more than one million children under the age of five were malnourished, with around 200,000 having severe acute malnourishment, living in areas where rates of cholera infection are very high.

Children with acute malnutrition are at least three times more likely to die from cholera and other diarrhoeal diseases.

Such diseases themselves cause further malnutrition, meaning that even if children survive the cholera outbreak they could still be pushed further into the spiral towards starvation.

“It’s simply unacceptable that children are trapped in a brutal cycle of starvation and sickness,” Tamer Kirolos added. “We are dealing with a horrific scenario of babies and young children who are not only malnourished but also infected with cholera.

“The tragedy is that both malnutrition and cholera are easily treatable if you have access to basic healthcare. But hospitals have been destroyed, 30,000 public sector health workers haven’t been paid for almost a year, and the delivery of vital aid is being obstructed.

“The world must act now to prevent more children from dying from an entirely preventable illness.”

Many NGOs and experts accuse the Saudi-led coalition’s bombing campaign of being a primary cause of cholera’s spread in Yemen, with health facilities often destroyed or undermanaged because of the war. This causes severe obstacles in treating the disease, allowing it to spread unabatedly.
After returning from Yemen in July, Nigel Timmins, Oxfam’s Humanitarian Director said: “The war has destroyed the economy and left millions without jobs or the means to earn a living and forced three million people to flee their homes.

“It has precipitated a crisis which has left seven million people on the brink of starvation. And the war has destroyed or damaged more than half the country’s health facilities and ushered in one of the world’s worst cholera outbreaks in over 50 years.

“Vital public servants such as health workers have not been paid for nearly a year. Hospitals, ports, roads and bridges have been bombed. All this is crippling efforts to tackle the cholera crisis.”

The UN Special Envoy for Yemen said on Tuesday that warring leaders in the country sought power rather than peace.

“The Yemeni people – they become poorer, whereas the leaders become richer… They are not interested in finding solutions, as they will lose their power and control in a settlement,” Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed told the UN Security Council.

“Future Yemeni generations will suffer and bear the burden of this conflict – including the massive destruction, the malnutrition, the lack of education and the economic deterioration.”
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