The number of suspected and confirmed cholera cases in war-torn Yemen is nearing 1 million, while suspected cases of diphtheria there have surpassed 2,000, according to WHO.
International aid workers have been trying to enter the Arabian Peninsula nation of roughly 28 million people to bring medicine, vaccines and other supplies to those desperately in need of them. A coalition of Saudi Arabia and eight other predominantly Sunni Muslim Arab nations have been fighting the Shia Houthi rebels, who are believed to be backed by Iran in the chaotic civil war.
The coalition imposed a blockade on Yemen in November, but Saudi authorities partially lifted the blockade to allow aid inside the country, yielding to international pressure to do so. But WHO and U.N. leaders on Dec. 2 said the easing of the blockade would merely delay, and not prevent, what they called “a massive humanitarian tragedy costing millions of lives.” They called on the Saudis to fully lift the blockade of sea ports.
“Without the urgent resumption of commercial imports, especially food, fuel and medicines, millions of children, women and men risk mass hunger, disease and death,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, PhD, MSc, and several U.N. leaders warned in a press release.
Meanwhile, disease cases continue to mount. As of Dec. 5, there were roughly 970,000 suspected and confirmed cases of cholera reported since April, WHO spokesman Gregory Anton Hartl told Infectious Disease News. It is the largest outbreak of cholera ever recorded, according to health officials. Hartl added, however, that the weekly rate of cases has decreased for 12 straight weeks.
The cholera outbreak has killed more than 2,200 people, according to the WHO-U.N. release.
Hartl said there were 2,228 suspected cases of diphtheria in Yemen and 28 deaths from the disease as of Dec. 4.
The WHO and U.N. officials noted that mass starvation, among other threats, also looms in the war-ravaged country.
“This imminent catastrophe is entirely avoidable, but it requires immediate action by the coalition,” they said, adding that more than 8 million people may starve without help.
“The United Nations is sending a team to Riyadh to discuss any concerns the coalition and Kingdom of Saudi Arabia may have in relation to these ports. But we need the coalition to urgently grant unimpeded access for imports that are a lifeline for millions of people.” – by Joe Green
WHO. United Nations Leaders call on the Saudi-led coalition to fully lift blockade of Yemeni Red Sea ports. 2017. www.who.int. Accessed Dec. 4, 2017.
Disclosures: Hartl and Tedros are employed by WHO.