Yemen Faces Worst Cholera Outbreak in Recent History


A cholera outbreak rages on in Yemen, a war afflicted nation of almost 30 million people on the southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula. The epidemic first reared its head in late April of this year, and has already reached a suspected case count of over 350,000 as of July 17th [1]. So far 1,790 people have died in this outbreak [1], and with an average of 5,000 new cases every day, the outbreak is not likely to be brought under control soon [2].                  


Cholera outbreaks have been a long-standing problem within the country, but have been exacerbated due to the civil war that has been going on since 2014. The conflict has destroyed much of the infrastructure in the country, and has left approximately 14.5 million people without access to clean water and sanitation [2]. As a result of the civil war, 65% of Yemen’s medical facilities have been destroyed, which has left 14 million people without access to medical care [3].


Lack of sanitation creates the perfect breeding ground for cholera to spread. Cholera is a diarrheal disease caused by the bacterium Vibrio cholerae [4]. The illness spreads through contamination of drinking water or food sources and from contact with the feces of an infected person. Symptoms include diarrhea, vomiting, and leg cramps. The symptoms are generally very acute and severe. While cholera is treatable through oral rehydration therapy and in some cases, antibiotics, if left untreated, death can occur within hours [4].


The cholera outbreak in Yemen represents the widespread devastation caused by prolonged internal conflict. The outbreak has largely affected the young, elderly, and the poor. The World Health Organization (WHO) has recently stepped in and sent 400 tons of supplies to help combat the epidemic. However, due to the lack of infrastructure present, it has been challenging to deliver aid and medical care to certain areas in the country[5].


To make matters worse, the government stopped paying civil servants in October 2016, which resulted in trash build-up and septic backups after protests from sanitation workers, allowing cholera to spread more easily [3]. The outbreak remains in full force, with treatment being sparse and too expensive for many that are ill. The quantity of medicine being delivered into the country has been reduced by more than 70% [5] since the beginning of the war, leaving patients without necessary treatment. Through inaction, both sides of the conflict have made it clear that the health of its citizens is not a priority, placing the burden on outside organizations to care for the people of Yemen.  The United Nations has called for $2.1 billion to provide an increase in medical supplies and health care workers in Yemen to curtail the outbreak; however, it has only received 29% of that funding from aid groups [3]. It is time for the international community to step up and prevent more vulnerable Yemenis from dying from a preventable illness.












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