The cholera outbreak in Yemen has become a dire situation as the World Health Organization (WHO) confirms the number of cases has reached over 400,000. U.N. leaders say the outbreak has increased the number of people in need of assistance to nearly 21 million. Since late April, the total has reached 402,484 suspected cases, 1,880 of them fatal. Illnesses have been reported in all but 2 of the country’s 23 governorates.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, PhD, along with UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake and World Food Program Executive Director David Beasley, said in a statement that more than 2 years of hostilities have crippled health, water, and sanitation systems, creating ideal conditions for the disease to spread.
“We now call on the international community to redouble its support for the people of Yemen. If we fail to do so, the catastrophe we have seen unfolding before our eyes will not only continue to claim lives but will scar future generations and the country for years to come,” the three said in their statement.
They warned that Yemen is on the brink of famine and 60% of the population doesn’t know where their next meal is coming from. They added that nearly 2 million of the country’s children are acutely malnourished, making them susceptible to cholera, which leads to more malnutrition.
The outbreak began last year but a second wave of the waterborne disease has spread even more quickly in the last couple of months. UNICEF and WHO have attributed the outbreak to malnutrition, collapsing sanitation and clean water systems due to the country’s ongoing conflict.
The impact of the outbreak has been exacerbated by many factors including the collapse of the Yemeni health services, where 30,000 health workers have remained unpaid for 10 months but are still reporting for duty. Less than half of Yemen’s medical centres are still functional. WHO officials said “We have asked the Yemeni authorities to pay these health workers urgently because, without them, we fear that people who would otherwise have survived may die.”
Local authorities and humanitarian groups have set up more than 1,000 treatment centers and oral rehydration units. The UN is working with the World Bank on a partnership to support the response needs and maintain the local health system.
Two years of conflict between the Saudi-led coalition and Houthi rebels have taken a heavy toll on Yemen, causing widespread internal displacement and leaving millions facing famine. The collapse of the country’s infrastructure has led to 14.5 million people, including nearly 8 million children, having no access to clean water and sanitation.
With thousands more cases reported each day the number of cholera cases in Yemen is expected to exceed 600,000 by the end of the year.