Second outbreak in six months is 20 times more deadly
Sameera* is fighting for her life at a Save the Children-supported treatment center. After three days of round-the-clock care, she's on the road to recovery. Credit: Mohammed Awadh / Save the Children
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FAIRFIELD, Conn. (May 21, 2017) — Save the Children staff in Yemen are warning that a deadly cholera outbreak could become a full blown-epidemic, with more than 65,000 cases expected by the end of June at current rates. Yemen is seeing an average of more than 1,000 suspected cases of cholera a day, with nearly two out of three suspected of being children under 15 years.
At least 242 people have already died from the spread of cholera and acute watery diarrhea (AWD) in the first three weeks of this outbreak. That’s 20 times more than the same period during the first wave in October 2016. The global humanitarian organization is warning the illness is spreading too fast to be brought under control without adequate resources. "If the cholera crisis isn’t brought under control by the start of the next rainy season in July, we could see deaths in the thousands rather than hundreds," said Carolyn Miles, President & CEO of Save the Children. "Children whose bodies have been weakened by malnutrition are the most vulnerable to cholera/AWD and there are 2.2 million malnourished children in Yemen. Already, every ten minutes a child under five dies of preventable causes."
The upsurge comes as the health system, sanitation facilities and civil infrastructure have reached breaking point because of the ongoing war. Sanitation workers in the capital Sanaa are on strike over months of unpaid wages, leading to a pile up of rubbish in the streets, which has now contaminated water supplies after heavy rains caused flooding. And a second rainy season is on the way. Meanwhile, continuing air strikes and artillery have left some sewage pipes in ruins. Less than half of all health facilities in Yemen are operational while two-thirds of the population – or 14 million people – have no access to safe drinking water.
Doctor Zaid at a hospital in Sanaa told Save the Children:
"Last week, we received 2-3 suspected cases per minute. I personally received 180 cases in one day last month. The number of patients in need is shocking. People lay in the corridors, and in some cases we have had to put six children on one bed as there are not enough to go around. We ask the international organizations to scale up their response. We face many challenges in this hospital. We lack medicines and medical supplies. We do not have enough doctors and nurses. We don’t even have a hand-washing station."
This cholera outbreak is spreading faster than the last one in Yemen six months ago, when an average of 160 suspected cases were reported daily between 6 October 2016 and 11 January 2017 . Humanitarian organizations like Save the Children say the cholera response is massively underfunded and they are running out of time to get the outbreak under control.
Muhsin Siddiquey, Yemen Acting Country Director, Save the Children, says:
"Children are dying from an entirely preventable disease right in front of our eyes. Save the Children can turn the situation around by raising public awareness, assisting in running Diarrhea Treatment Centers, distributing medical supplies and oral rehydration kits. But we need ongoing restrictions on imports of medical supplies to be lifted and funding to come in straight away before it is too late."
Save the Children is calling for urgent financial support to procure the medicines, staff and hygiene promotion needed to bring this outbreak under control. Parties to the conflict must also ensure unfettered humanitarian access and end restrictions on imports of medicines and other essential supplies – that includes opening commercial airspace in Sanaa airport and ensuring the main Hodeida port can operate at full capacity.
*Child's name changed for protection.
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