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Yemen: In the midst of a cholera emergency

Two thirds of Yemen’s population is living without access to safe drinking water. Photo: Florian Seriex for Action Against Hunger, Yemen.

In Yemen, a rampant cholera epidemic is threatening the lives of populations already weakened by two years of conflict. Authorities in Yemen declared a state of emergency over the outbreak in the capital city of Sana’a and are calling for international help to prevent a massive public health disaster. The United Nations has warned that two thirds of Yemen’s population lack access to safe drinking water, and few health facilities remain functional. The international humanitarian organization Action Against Hunger is intensifying its efforts to combat the cholera outbreak by strengthening its awareness and prevention campaigns and supporting a cholera treatment center in Al Hudaydah city.

In less than a month, there have been 23,500 suspected cases of cholera, and 242 people have already died, according to the World Health Organization. Although a state of emergency was only declared in the capital of Sana’a, 18 other governorates have been affected by the escalation of this epidemic.

“We are extremely worried,” said Action Against Hunger’s Country Director in Yemen, Erin Hutchinson. “The dramatic increase in the number of suspected cholera cases in only a few weeks indicates that we could soon be facing a public health catastrophe. Yemen is already at rock bottom because of ongoing conflict and widespread hunger: the country cannot absorb a major new shock such as this. The Yemeni health system is on the brink of collapse, as this crisis clearly highlights.”

MALNOURISHED CHILDREN IN JEOPARDY

Action Against Hunger is working in Al Hudaydah Governorate, which alone accounts for 28 percent of the total number of children suffering from severe acute malnutrition across Yemen. In their extremely weakened state, these children are at greater risk of death from waterborne diseases such as cholera. Since early April, about a hundred new cases of cholera have been detected in this area.

Action Against Hunger opened a treatment center in November 2016 to respond to an outbreak of cholera. The center treated over 10,000 people.

“In January and February 2017, the situation seemed to be improving, with the center seeing fewer than 20 patients per day. We trained the medical staff, and withdrew from the center when the caseload diminished, handing over management to Yemeni health authorities, while maintaining our cholera prevention programs in the community,” said Hutchinson. “In the face of this rise in cholera deaths and infections, we are increasing our support to the treatment center. We are training medical staff to respond to the increasing number of cases, and providing health control measures for the premises.”

Thanks to our supporters, Action Against Hunger also opened 11 oral rehydration points to treat people with less severe cases of cholera, in addition to providing support and services at the cholera treatment center in Al Hudaydah. We’re working to prevent cholera with interventions to limit contamination and spread of the disease, including providing hygiene awareness and cholera prevention sessions in communities, disinfecting local wells with chlorine to eradicate the bacterium, distributing supplies of safe drinking water by truck to more than 27,000 people, and distributing hygiene kits with soap and water purification tablets to families.

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