An outbreak of cholera in Yemen has now claimed 32 lives as two-thirds of the country struggle to secure fresh drinking water due to the conflict.
United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) yesterday said the death toll has risen rapidly since the first confirmed case on October 8. Officials said there are a further 340 suspected cases.
Rajat Madhok, Chief of Communication and Advocacy at UNICEF Yemen, said malnourished children are the most at risk.
He told 7DAYS: “You have children who already have a weak immune system, who are suffering from severe acute malnutrition and they contract something like this, and it can lead to death.
“Look at it in perspective of the crumbling health system and the number of people displaced and the dynamics of how people don’t have access to clean or safe water or health facilities.
“It is spreading but it needs to be contained urgently.”
Cholera is a gastrointestinal disease, usually spread by contaminated water and food, that can cause severe diarrhea that can lead to fatal dehydration and kidney failure within hours.
The conflict between the ousted government and the Houthi rebels has left two-thirds of Yemenis without access to clean water and sanitation services like sewage systems, further increasing the risk of catching cholera, according to an October report by the WHO.
As of this month, only 45 per cent of all health facilities in Yemen remain functional due to shortages in health staff, medicines and medical supplies, WHO officials said.
Madhok added: “At least 7.6 million people are estimated to be living in affected areas with a high-risk of contracting the disease, which shows you the magnitude of the problem.”
Reported cases have escalated in central cities of Sana’a, Ammanat al Aasima and Al Baida, southern governorates of Aden and Lahj, and the northern city of Hajjah.
The United Nations has set up a task force to curb the spread by accessing areas with poor sanitation and contaminated water and providing care and response:
UNICEF personnel have been going from door to door to give families cholera chlorination tablets and basic hygiene kits containing soap and washing powder.
In addition they are providing hospitals and health centres with rehydration salts, intravenous fluids, diarrheal kits and staff training so that children who are admitted for Cholera can be treated immediately, he said.
The WHO say a total of $22.35 million is required by their health and water, sanitation and hygiene units, of which $16.6 million is needed immediately.
Madhok said: “Containing Cholera is top priority for UNICEF otherwise many children will go through the harrowing and painful stages of this illness, some not surviving it.”