Yemen: Cholera outbreak piles on the misery

Hatem, aged only 7 months and recovering from cholera, waits to have a cannula (for an intravenous rehydration drip) removed

Yemen is facing an acute and fast-spreading cholera outbreak that is making even worse the already dire humanitarian crisis in the country. The lack of a functioning health system and limited access to safe water and hygiene poses a huge threat, with over 200,000 cases of cholera reported across the country.

A child in Yemen recovering from cholera

2-year-old Amal (above) lies on her mother’s lap as she gets ready to leave the cholera isolation unit at Aljomhuri hospital in Hajja, Yemen. Amal started vomiting and suffering from severe diarrhoea two days ago – symptoms of cholera – after drinking infected water delivered by a water truck.

I pay 12,000 Yemeni Rial (approximately US$34) each time I buy water from the water truck that comes around to my village and and I believed that this water is safe for my family.

Only a few families in Hajja city can afford to pay for the water from the trucks, which is used for cooking and drinking. There are a limited number of public water sources in the city and most of these are now contaminated with cholera. There have been numerous campaigns to sensitise the truck owners on the cholera outbreak but the trucks’ tanks are often uncovered and the vendors fail to add chlorine tablets to the tanks before pumping water to houses.

A girl in Yemen recovering in a hospital
Bushra, age 12, has just started treatment at the cholera unit at Aljomhuri hospital

For another young girl, Jehad, age 9, this is her second time in the cholera isolation unit. Jehad explains that the cholera outbreak has badly affected her village:

Every day many people get sick with the disease. One month ago, I got sick with vomiting and diarrhoea and then I got better. But here I am again, facing the same symptoms.

Jehad fetches water for her family’s daily use from the valley where rain is collected in small ponds. She and her friends also use the water in the ponds to wash clothes and other household items. At the end of the day, they carry  water in jerrycans to their houses so it can be used for drinking and cooking.

Dr Numan Saheb is the supervisor of the cholera unit at the hospital. He says:

We receive more than 150 cases of cholera at Aljomhuri hospital on daily basis. The majority of these cases are from Mabyan where Jehad comes from.

Many of the people in Mabyan district were displaced to the area due to the conflict. Most of them have no source of income and live in very basic conditions that make the spread of diseases like cholera harder to control.

Layla, a 22-year-old mother of three, is recovering in the cholera isolation unit, but is concerned about how her family can cope. Her husband used to work as a public servant, but has received no salary for the last 8 months. She says:

We can barely feed our children.  When I think about cleaning substances or water purification, I see these as luxury.

A young boy in Yemen lies in a hospital bed

Mustafa (above), age 10, was admitted three days ago in a critical condition, but is now recovering. His father explains how lucky they are that he could afford to bring his son to the hospital:

There are a lot of sick people I know in this city who are unable to afford even the transport expenses necessary to reach the hospital.

CARE is responding to the cholera outbreak in Yemen through direct assistance including the provision of safe water to public facilities like hospitals and schools, treatment of water sources and household water points, and distributing hygiene and cholera kits to communities; and awareness-raising activities including mass handwashing campaigns, personal hygiene lessons and public advertisements to raise awareness on cholera prevention.

Wael Ibrahim, CARE’s Country Director in Yemen, says:

This cholera outbreak is a symptom of a complex, multi-faceted crisis that requires solutions beyond treating and preventing infections.

In an article published on The Independent online, Wael writes: “Around 1,500 Yemenis have died of cholera since April 2017. There have been over 200,000 cases suspected, with around 5,000 new cases every day – making this the world’s worst cholera outbreak.”

As an aid worker in Yemen’s capital, Sana’a, one of the worst affected areas, I have seen first-hand how war, lack of basic services and hunger have contributed to spread of this sickness.

He says: “Yemenis can no longer be forced to make the choice between crises. More needs to be done to support and strengthen the systems necessary to effectively respond.”

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