Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Ignoring Yemen and its cholera epidemic

Yemeni children are contracting cholera at rate of one every 35 seconds. Save the Children warns rate of infection has tripled in two weeks, fuelled by near-famine conditions and crippled infrastructure.

Over the past two weeks, the rate of infection has more than tripled, according to Save the Children. It reports that young people are increasingly the worst affected – under 15s now account for nearly half of all cases, compared with 40% last week.  As of the 13 June, 129,185 suspected cholera/acute watery diarrhoea cases and 942 deaths have been registered in 20 of Yemen’s 22 governorates. Unicef estimates that there could be 250,000 cases in six months’ time.

Dr Mariam Aldogani, a health adviser with Save the Children, speaking from Al-Salakhana hospital in the Red Sea port city of Hodeidah, said health workers are completely overwhelmed. “We have had 1,702 cases from mid-May till now. This is only for Al-Salakhana hospital. The need is high but the resources are very limited. You cannot imagine the fear in the eyes of the mothers because most of the cases are children. In some cases there are three children in a bed,” she said.

Dr Meritxell Relaño, the Unicef Yemen representative, said the epidemic has come on top of a crisis in public services, which has crippled health, water and sanitation systems. “Cholera came at a moment where the system was about to collapse, where poverty was increasing, where malnutrition peaked. You can imagine what diarrhoea can do to a child who is already very weak, whose immune system is at a minimum – children who are six months old and are only 2.5kg,” she said. The situation is especially bad for communities living in remote areas, where families cannot afford to travel to a hospital.  Relaño said Unicef is sending mobile teams to communities in rural areas, but that many families are unable to access a doctor. “Poverty now is widespread,” she said. “Families have used all the money they have in the last two years of the crisis.” Only half of health centres in Yemen are fully functional, while health workers, like many others in the public sector, have not been paid for almost nine months. “Many of the doctors and nurses have left the country because they were not receiving a salary or because they want to look for other opportunities, given the escalation of the conflict,” added Relaño.

Dr Nevio Zagaria, head of the World Health Organisation’s office in Yemen, said it is focusing on “hot spots” that are the sources of the disease. More than half of all cholera cases so far have been in Sana’a, Amran, Hajjah and Hodeidah (pdf). “Stamp out cholera in these places and we can slow the spread of the disease and save lives. At the same time, we’re continuing to support early and proper treatment for the sick and conducting prevention activities across the country,” he said.

More than 2 million children under the age of five in Yemen are acutely malnourished. Damage to infrastructure caused by two years of intense conflict means 14.5 million people, including nearly 8 million children, do not have access to clean water and sanitation. Restrictions on bringing aid and medical supplies into Yemen, including long delays accessing the main Hodeidah port and the closure of Sana’a airport, made tackling the epidemic even harder, said Grant Pritchard, Save the Children's director in Yemen, The region’s poorest country is on the verge of total collapse, and children are dying because they’re not able to access basic healthcare."

Drawing attention to this problem means to highlight the support given to the Saudi Arabian war crimes and the fact that they are supported by the UK. 

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