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Disease spike in Yemen humanitarian crisis 

Surge in suspected cholera cases in Hodeidah
02 October 2018

Save the Children has observed a near tripling of suspected cholera cases in Hodeidah in just three months

  • Save the Children’s health centres report 170 per cent spike in suspected cases.
  • Malnutrition, displacement and attacks on water supplies could spark a new wave of the disease nationwide.
  • 100,000 severely malnourished children at risk in Hodeidah.

Between June and August this year Save the Children-supported health facilities across the governorate recorded a 170 per cent increase in the number of suspected cholera cases, from 497 in June to 1,342 in August. This is in line with national data that also shows a steady increase of suspected cholera cases across Yemen. Thirty per cent of all suspected cases are children under five years old, according to the World Health Organization.  

The rise in suspected cases in Hodeidah coincides with a dramatic increase in fighting between the Houthis and forces backed by the Saudi- and Emirati-led Coalition in June. Then, between 26 and 28 July, airstrikes resulted in the damage of a sanitation facility and water station that supplies Hodeidah with most of its water. After this incident, suspected cholera cases almost doubled between July (732) and August (1,342) in Save the Children-supported health centres. 

In a recent UN survey of more than 2,000 respondents across Yemen, more than half (56 per cent) cited water supply damage as the most common form of infrastructure damage. In Hodeidah governorate this jumped to 62 per cent of respondents.

As battles have intensified around Hodeidah’s port city in September, Save the Children is warning of a humanitarian catastrophe should the ground fighting reach densely populated areas or if the city should be besieged.

The governorate is also home to nearly 100,000 severely malnourished children - more than a quarter of Yemen’s total. These children are much more likely to contract and die from diarrhoeal diseases like cholera than well-nourished children

In addition, over half a million people have been displaced from their homes in Hodeidah since June, forced to live in host communities in cramped conditions and with little access to clean water and sanitation. Yemen’s rainy season which runs from April to August is further compounding the problem.

Speaking from Sanaa, Tamer Kirolos, Save the Children’s Yemen Country Director, said:

“Children in Yemen are experiencing severe hardships that no child should endure, facing multiple threats from bombs and bullets to disease and extreme hunger. It’s unacceptable that they’re dying from entirely preventable causes.”

“Treating cholera is straightforward providing children can get the rehydration and antibiotics they need and hospitals and clinics are adequately equipped. But nearly four years of conflict has led to a near-total collapse of the health system in Yemen. The warring parties have repeatedly attacked medical facilities, making some of them unusable or inaccessible. If this continues many more children could die of cholera and other preventable diseases.”

“There are no aboveground water sources in Yemen so the vast majority of communities depend entirely on wells and water trucks to meet their daily needs. Even in towns and cities water systems are in a state of disrepair or damaged from the fighting. Limited availability often results in poor hygiene practices and sanitation, heightening the risk of further cholera outbreaks. The solution is simple. The fighting must stop and the parties to the conflict need to find a political solution. In the meantime, Save the Children will continue to distribute medicines and support clinics to reach the most vulnerable children before it’s too late.”   

Speaking from Hodeidah, Dr Mariam Aldogani, Save the Children’s Hodeidah Field Manager, said:

“The situation in Hodeidah has become unbearable because of the conflict. I’m seeing more and more children coming in with suspected cholera. I met one mother of two who has acute diarrhoea and she told me her whole family is affected because they don’t have access to clean water anymore. They all drink from an open well and don’t even have enough money to buy cooking gas needed to boil the contaminated water they collect. Her husband hasn’t been paid a salary since last year. She knows she’s putting her children’s health at risk. But what can she do, when they cry from thirst? So they just drink, and hope for the best.”  

22-year-old Salwa* and her two-year-old son Aseel* live with 13 family members in their house in Hodeidah. Both mother, who is four months pregnant, and son are suffering from cholera. When Salwa got sick, she couldn’t afford the $4 bus fare to the hospital. After three days, her father managed to rent a motorbike and brought his daughter in critical condition to a Save the Children health clinic. Both mother and son are being treated now, but Salwa continues to worry about the fate of her unborn child and whether she’ll be able to reach a hospital in time to give birth safely.

Salwa told Save the Children:

“Two days after I got sick, my two-year-old son got sick and joined me in the hospital. For sure, I infected him with cholera. We drink water from a well near our house. We collect the water from the well more than three times a day.

“Our life before the war was prosperous but after the war our life changed because there is a lack of fuel. Before the war I used to work in the farms but after the war work opportunities finished.

“I am four months pregnant. When I got sick with cholera I felt worried that I’d lose my baby, especially with the current bad situation. I always think about giving birth in such a bad situation.”

Cholera is an infectious disease transmitted through contaminated food or water. Access to clean water is crucial in bringing a cholera outbreak under control. But Yemen is the most water-scarce country in the Arab world. Even before the war began experts feared Yemen could become the first country in the world to run out of usable water. Nearly four years of conflict have only made matters worse. 

For details please contact Alex Sampson on 0429 943 027

*Names changed to protect identity

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