Amid a collapsing health system and bloody civil war, the cholera outbreak in Yemen hit 500,000 cases over the weekend as millions of people remain without access to clean water and waste collection services, according to health officials.
Since early July, the outbreak has slowed in areas of the country that have been impacted the most, but an estimated 5,000 people are still being infected by the waterborne diarrheal disease every day, and nearly 2,000 people have died since the outbreak began in late April, WHO said.
The agency said over 15 million people are unable to access basic health care because more than half of all health facilities in the war-torn country have closed due to damage, funds have been lacking, and 30,000 health workers have not been paid in more than a year.
Those who have been able to access health services have survived more than 99% of the time, WHO said.
“Yemen’s health workers are operating in impossible conditions. Thousands of people are sick, but there are not enough hospitals, not enough medicines, not enough clean water,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, PhD, MSc, said in a statement. “These doctors and nurses are the backbone of the health response — without them we can do nothing in Yemen. They must be paid their wages so that they can continue to save lives.”
Cholera is rare in the United States and other industrialized countries, but cases of the potentially life-threatening disease have steadily increased since 2005 in other parts of the globe, according to the CDC. The disease impacts vulnerable populations, including children and patients aged older than 60 years.
Last month, Oxfam said Yemen was experiencing the largest single-year cholera outbreak ever recorded in one country, surpassing the more than 340,000 cases recorded in Haiti in 2011. An official for the anti-poverty charity group said Yemen was “teetering on the brink of famine” and called the cholera outbreak “a knockout blow.”
Tedros said saving lives in Yemen means supporting the health system. WHO said its response includes working with partners to set up cholera treatment clinics and rehabilitation facilities, the delivery of medical supplies and support for the national health effort.
"And we urge the Yemeni authorities — and all those in the region and elsewhere who can play a role — to find a political solution to this conflict that has already caused so much suffering,” Tedros said. “The people of Yemen cannot bear it much longer — they need peace to rebuild their lives and their country.” – by Gerard Gallagher
Disclosure: Tedros is the director-general of WHO.