Cholera outbreak deals war-torn Yemen yet another blow
ADEN // Yemen is battling an outbreak of cholera, with the disease spreading to ten of its 23 provinces as the war-torn nation struggles to provide clean water for its people.
The World Health Organisation warned last week that the number of suspected cases of cholera had risen to 1,410 in Yemen, three weeks after the outbreak was declared.
The Emirates Red Crescent (ERC), together with the World Health Organisation and Unicef, is helping to stem the spread of the disease, made worse by the scarcity of drinkable water and deteriorating hygiene conditions after months of conflict between the government and Houthi rebels.
Cholera, a bacterial infection which causes acute diarrhoea, is transmitted through contaminated food or water. If not treated promptly, it can kill up to 15 per cent of those who are affected in just a few hours, warned the UN children’s agency Unicef.
According to Emirates news agency Wam, the ERC has delivered 20 barrels of chlorine to Aden’s water authority and provided enough oral rehydration solution to Aden’s hospitals to treat at least 500 cases of cholera.
Nasr Al Shatheli, the deputy governor of Aden province, said the governorate is in need of chlorine to combat the spread of cholera.
Last week, at least three children from the same family – all boys below the age of 10 – were admitted to the Khalifa hospital in Taez province’s Al Shimayateen district for cholera.
“All the cases are receiving treatment for free in the hospital,” said Abdurrahman Qasem, the director of the hospital.
He declined to let The National meet the patients or their family, but said one of the boys arrived at the hospital on October 22 and that the other two were admitted two days later.
“I urge the international organisations to provide the hospitals with solutions and medicines of cholera to help any future cases,” he said.
“Children are at a particularly high risk if the current cholera outbreak is not urgently contained especially since the health system in Yemen is crumbling as the conflict continues,” said Julien Harneis, Unicef representative in Yemen.
Children under 10 accounted for about half of all suspected cholera cases, the WHO said in a report on October 26.
It said there had been six deaths from cholera in the country, and 36 associated deaths from acute watery diarrhoea.
The three children admitted to Khalifa hospital for cholera came from the rural villages of Sharjad and Al Rabaisah, where people have been struggling to get clean water, said the hospital’s Mr Qasem.
“In the rural areas, people bring water by donkeys or by bottles from wells, and sometimes this water is not safe for drinking,” he added.
He said that many parents do not know about the danger of cholera and the importance of prompt treatment.
“They are not aware of the disease,” he said, and therefore, “if the child is sick, his parents neglect to bring him to the hospital immediately”.
“There is [an] awareness [campaign] by some organisations about the symptoms of cholera and if the parents see their children are suffering from those symptoms, they have to take them immediately to the hospital,” Mr Qasem said.
“The dirty drinking water and eating without washing hands are main reasons of cholera.”
Aid agencies such as Unicef and WHO are working to determine the extent of the outbreak and to control its spread.
“We are chlorinating all water sources as well as water tanks so that water is safe,” said Mohammed Mohammed, Unicef’s water sanitation and hygiene officer in charge of the cholera response.
“At the same time we are distributing hygiene kits which include soap, washing powder, jerry cans etc to families. And lastly we are going from house to house explaining to families about how cholera is spread and how they can protect themselves against it.”
In addition to the outbreak of cholera, there are also concerns about malnutrition and the spread of endemic diseases such as malaria and dengue fever. Disruptions in immunisation programmes also increase the risk of outbreaks such as measles, according to WHO.
The conflict in Yemen has increased the pressure on its health system where, according to WHO, less than 50 per cent of health facilities are fully functional and 17 per cent have stopped working altogether. The UAE recently signed two agreements worth Dh50.5 million with WHO to develop Yemen’s health sector by providing new hospital equipment and vaccination to women and children.
* Additional reporting by Reuters
Updated: October 31, 2016 04:00 AM