Yemen: More Cholera-Related Cases in First Half of 2019 than Whole of Last Year

At least 193 cholera-related deaths reported among children

FAIRFIELD, Conn. (July 8, 2019)—The battle against cholera in Yemen is far from over, Save the Children warns: the first six months of 2019 have already seen more suspected cases than the whole of 2018, including 203,000 children under 15. At least 193 children have died of cholera-related illnesses in 2019.1

The warning comes at a critical moment. The rainy season is likely to lead to an escalation in the outbreak—there is already flooding, and more heavy downpours threaten to intensify the spread of the waterborne disease.

The total number of cholera-related deaths spiked as well. In the first six months of 2019, the number of people dying from suspected cases of cholera was nine times as high as in the same period last year. The fatality rate has doubled.2

The conflict in Yemen has disabled much of the infrastructure for clean water and sanitation, leaving some 9.2 million children without proper access to safe water.3 Fuel availability is fluctuating, limiting the pumping of sewage and garbage collection, leaving many parts of Yemen a breeding ground for infectious and waterborne diseases such as cholera.

Malnourished children are particularly vulnerable to cholera-related diseases. Their weak immune systems mean they are at least three times more likely to die if they contract cholera.4 Diarrheal diseases like cholera are themselves a major contributor to malnutrition in Yemen.

“Disease outbreaks are now rife due to the collapse of the health system, weak sanitation systems, and a population made increasingly vulnerable by forced displacement and malnutrition. The health system is under considerable stress, with only half of the health facilities functional while the rest remain closed or are partially functional,” said Tamer Kirolos, Save the Children’s country director in Yemen.

“The number of suspected cases has been relatively steady for some weeks, but the disease is endemic, and we’re fearing a sharp spike because of the rains and flooding. As the conflict rages on, clean water systems are breaking down and funding of aid in Yemen remains too low, all we can do is try and keep as many children alive as possible.”

Save the Children is supporting oral rehydration services and primary care in health facilities in many districts at the center of the cholera outbreak. The organization also runs programs to purify water and raise awareness of disease prevention in communities, but only an end to the war can protect children from the widespread transmission of cholera.

Save the Children is calling on warring parties in Yemen to resume the implementation of the Stockholm Agreement and to work toward a lasting peace. Urgent action is needed to rebuild the health system to a functional status, or there is a risk of losing even more people to preventable diseases like cholera. Save the Children asks Yemen authorities to ensure the regular and full payment of civil servant salaries, particularly to health workers and teachers, and to equip health facilities with the urgently-needed personnel to ensure continued delivery of critical health services.

To learn more about Save the Children’s work in Yemen and donate to the response visit www.SavetheChildren.org/Yemen.

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1 Cholera Outbreak Monitor (COM), see: http://yemeneoc.org/bi/
2 According to the COM, the number of suspected cases of cholera in the first six months of 2018 was 93,237 with the number of associated deaths standing at 76. In the first six months of 2019 the total number of cases was 439,812 (about 4.5 times higher than in the same period in 2018, the number of deaths is 695 (nine times higher than in the first half of 2018). 
3 See https://reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/2019_Yemen_HNO_FINAL.pdf (p13)
4 Malnourished children are 6.3x (Severe Acute Malnutrition) and 2.9x (Moderate Acute Malnutrition) more likely to die from diarrheal diseases than well-nourished children. See here for more information: http://www.who.int/nutrition/topics/Lancetseries_Undernutrition1.pdf

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