A massive resurgence of cholera afflicts Yemen, a bacterial infection that can kill within hours if untreated. Between January 2018 and June 2019, reports have determined there have been about 800,000 cases of cholera in the country. Here is a breakdown of the cholera health crisis in Yemen and the response from four notable organizations.
What is Cholera?
Cholera is a potentially fatal bacterial infection that can cause diarrhea, severe dehydration, nausea and vomiting. It mainly spreads through the consumption of water and food contaminated with the bacterium Vibrio cholerae.
Industrialized countries with proper water sewage filtration systems are unlikely to experience surges of cholera outbreaks. However, countries with inadequate water treatment are at a much higher risk of experiencing a cholera epidemic. Areas afflicted by natural disasters, poverty, war and refugee settings are at an exacerbated risk of experiencing cholera outbreaks.
The oral cholera vaccine is highly effective but the vaccine was not available in Yemen prior to the epidemic outbreak in 2017. Since then, more than 300,000 Yemenis received the cholera vaccination but continuous conflict provides a barrier between health care officials and the rest of the population. Doctors Without Borders maintains that the vaccine, while highly effective, is not enough to end cholera due to its low supply and short term protection.
Cholera Health Crisis in Yemen
As Yemen faces its fourth year of war, the country also fights a looming health crisis. The cholera health crisis in Yemen affects 22 of 23 governorates and almost 299 of Yemen’s 333 districts. Recording over one million cholera cases in 2017, Yemen’s crisis is the worst cholera epidemic on record.
Driven by years of war, the country has experienced a significant collapse in access to food, safe drinking water and health care. With millions of Yemenis facing famine, malnourishment increases the risk of cholera infections becoming fatal.
Many organizations are on the ground in Yemen, treating as many cholera cases as possible. Organizations responding to the health crisis in Yemen include Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) or Doctors Without Borders, Save the Children, Islamic Relief Foundation and World Health Organization (WHO).
If left untreated, the mortality rate of cholera can be very high. With proper treatment, cholera is very easy to cure. The problem is that it is not easy for cholera victims to get to a medical center quickly, especially amidst times of war. One MSF treatment center in the governorate of Khamer explains the hardship that increasing fuel prices pose on those seeking health care.
During the peak of the cholera health crisis in Yemen, MSF treated over 100,000 patients with cholera. The use of cholera kits, essentials to treat the infection, allows the charity to respond quickly and effectively to any cholera outbreak. MSF also has cholera treatment centers in the heart of areas with cholera outbreaks.
Since cholera can lead to severe dehydration, the main cause of death in cholera cases, MSF has rehydration points conveniently located closer to communities than medical centers. Such rehydration points are effective in treating mild cholera cases.
Save The Children Offers Health Care
Since children with malnutrition are three times more likely to die from cholera, groups that provide nourishment in Yemen are essential. Save the Children, the first-ever international aid group in Yemen, not only distributes cash and food vouchers to families but also provides food for children and pregnant women.
Supporting 167 health facilities in Yemen, Save the Children provides training to health care professionals and volunteers in malnutrition management and prevention, a step taken to further alleviate the cholera crisis in Yemen.
Islamic Relief USA Provides Access to Clean Water
Islamic Relief USA works to provide vital aid, emergency food assistance and emergency water supply in the war-torn country. Clean water is vital to the country because cholera mainly spreads through contaminated drinking water. Islamic Relief USA is actively providing a clean supply of water to the governorates of Aden and Taiz. Both Taiz and Aden will have water tanks installed close to homes and schools so they remain water-secure when the organization is no longer active in these governorates. About 4,000 internally displaced people in these governorates will be at a decreased risk of cholera infection due to an increase of clean water supply from the water tanks.
The World Health Organization Increases Defenses Against Cholera
The World Health Organization maintains that Yemen is beginning to see a decrease in cholera infections. Financial aid from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are contributing to this decrease. Millions of Yemenis now have access to health care unlike before. WHO is working on increasing the availability of diarrheal treatment centers, cholera vaccines and training of health providers in Yemen.
With 17.8 million water insecure people, Yemen is a breeding ground for cholera. Organizations like those listed above are essential to promoting prevention, care, and hopefully soon, the suppression of the cholera health crisis in Yemen.
– Rebekah Askew