Cholera, Lurking Symptom of Yemen’s War, Appears to Make Roaring Comeback


Cholera, a potentially fatal disease that has come to symbolize the humanitarian crisis of the war in Yemen, has surged again in the country, health workers reported Wednesday, with some areas hit by as many as 2,000 suspected or confirmed cases per week.

Doctors without Borders, the medical charity, said in a statement that its teams had recently seen a “dramatic increase in cholera cases, demonstrating the urgent need for humanitarian assistance to improve water and sanitation in the war-torn country.”

The World Health Organization said that from the beginning of 2019 through March 17, nearly 109,000 cases of severe acute watery diarrhea and suspected cholera had been reported, with nearly 200 deaths. About one-third of the reported cases afflicted children underage 5, the organization said.

Spread by poor hygiene and contaminated drinking water, cholera can cause fatal dehydration without treatment. It has long been considered endemic to Yemen, the Arab world’s poorest country.

But cholera cases exploded after the war began in March 2015 between Yemen’s Houthi rebels and a Saudi-led coalition, which led to a basic collapse in public health and sanitation systems.

Two years ago Yemen suffered the world’s largest cholera outbreak, with more than 1 million cases. Although the disease was brought under control, medical organizations operating in the country have continued to see cases in almost every region.

Doctors without Borders said that its facilities had admitted more than 7,900 patients with suspected cholera in Amran, Hajjah, Ibb and Taiz governorates in western Yemen since Jan. 1.

Over the past three months, the charity said, “the number of suspected or confirmed cholera patients increased from 140 to 2,000 per week.”

Hassan Boucenine, the head of the charity’s Yemen mission, said the increase was particularly concerning because the rainy season, which could aggravate the problem, had not even started yet.

Dr. Ahmed Al Mandhari, the regional director of the World Health Organization, and Geert Cappelaere, the regional director for Unicef, said in a joint statement that they had begun scaling up the response “to assist immediately the people affected and to prevent the disease from spreading further.”

But they also acknowledged that “we face several challenges, including the intensification of fighting, access restrictions and bureaucratic hurdles to bring lifesaving supplies and personnel to Yemen.”

The United Nations considers Yemen, where the war has just entered its fifth year, to be the world’s worst man-made humanitarian crisis. Relief officials have said 24 million people, close to 80 percent of Yemen’s population, need protection and assistance, hunger is rampant, and famine threatens hundreds of thousands.

Source : Nytimes