Milestones :: Perspectives

Milestones :: Perspectives
Cholera count reaches 500,000 in Yemen
WHO News release
14 August 2017 | GENEVA – The total number of suspected cholera cases in Yemen this year hit the half a million mark on Sunday, and nearly 2000 people have died since the outbreak began to spread rapidly at the end of April.

The overall caseload nationwide has declined since early July, particularly in the worst affected areas. But suspected cases of the deadly waterborne disease continue to rage across the country, infecting an estimated 5000 people per day.

The spread of cholera has slowed significantly in some areas compared to peak levels but the disease is still spreading fast in more recently affected districts, which are recording large numbers of cases.

Yemen’s cholera epidemic, currently the largest in the world, has spread rapidly due to deteriorating hygiene and sanitation conditions and disruptions to the water supply across the country. Millions of people are cut off from clean water, and waste collection has ceased in major cities.

A collapsing health system is struggling to cope, with more than half of all health facilities closed due to damage, destruction or lack of funds. Shortages in medicines and supplies are persistent and widespread and 30 000 critical health workers have not been paid salaries in nearly a year.

“Yemen’s health workers are operating in impossible conditions. Thousands of people are sick, but there are not enough hospitals, not enough medicines, not enough clean water. These doctors and nurses are the backbone of the health response – without them we can do nothing in Yemen. They must be paid their wages so that they can continue to save lives,” said Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General.

WHO and partners are working around the clock to set up cholera treatment clinics, rehabilitate health facilities, deliver medical supplies, and support the national health response effort.
More than 99% of people sick with suspected cholera who can access health services are surviving. Furthermore, nearly 15 million people are unable to get basic healthcare.

“To save lives in Yemen today we must support the health system, especially the health workers. And we urge the Yemeni authorities – and all those in the region and elsewhere who can play a role – to find a political solution to this conflict that has already caused so much suffering. The people of Yemen cannot bear it much longer – they need peace to rebuild their lives and their country,” said Dr. Tedros.

The Lancet
Aug 12, 2017 Volume 390 Number 10095 p625-714
Yemen and cholera: a modern humanity test
The Lancet
Urgent warnings began in May as aid agencies called for an immediate response to the growing cholera outbreak in Yemen. By mid-July, over 330,000 cholera cases were reported, with 1700 deaths. Since 2015, a civil war has left 14·5 million people (half the country’s population) without access to clean water and sanitation. The UN has called it the “world’s worst cholera outbreak in the context of the world’s worst humanitarian crisis”. The war, unpaid worker salaries, a decimated health system, controversies around the undeployed cholera vaccine stockpile, and slow global funding efforts are all somehow to blame. Pre-existing health indicators are grim and the estimated 400 000 severely malnourished Yemeni children are particularly vulnerable. Famine and other preventable communicable diseases are forecast. Indisputedly, a ceasefire is needed to allow access to humanitarian aid and abate further suffering and death.

As a collective humanity, the shame is ours to bear. The position of The Lancet family of journals is that with all current knowledge and commitments to acting early on cholera outbreaks, such escalated death rates quite simply should not happen. Cholera has been ravaging communities for two centuries. Yet in 2017, outbreaks are entirely containable early with coordinated efforts to implement water, sanitation, and medical rehydration treatment.
There is a vaccine and antibiotics exist. For workers who witnessed the 1994 cholera outbreak among the Rwandan refugees, which killed 12 000 people in Goma, eastern Zaire, this current humanitarian crisis echoes both the indignation and the slow response to an early warning. Unlike Goma, however, the Yemen crisis has unfolded under the global scrutiny of the internet.

On the eve of World Humanitarian Day, Aug 19, Yemen must be foremost among priorities of every institution and government acting for global health. Containing the cholera crisis and reinstating health and personal security for 27 million Yemeni people is the high stakes sustainable development test for how humanity can and will organise around vocalised commitments to protect the most vulnerable among us today.

Statement by the Humanitarian Coordinator in Yemen Mr. Jamie McGoldrick on Shrinking Humanitarian Space in Yemen [EN/AR]
Sana’a, 17 August 2017: I am deeply concerned by the shrinking humanitarian space in Yemen where parties to the conflict continue to obstruct the timely provision of humanitarian aid to people in need.

For months, humanitarian partners have experienced delays by authorities in Sana’a to facilitate the entry of aid workers into Yemen, interference in the delivery of humanitarian assistance and the choice of implementing partners and obstructions in the conduct of assessments. There have also been increased incidents of aid diversion away from intended beneficiaries in areas under the control of the Sana’a authorities.

I am specifically concerned about the looting of food aid and other humanitarian goods in Taizz Governorate where there have been three separate incidents over a period of two months. Since January 2017, eleven vehicles belonging to humanitarian organisations have been hijacked in Taizz City in areas under the control of the Government of Yemen.

While I acknowledge the efforts of the authorities and local leaders to recover looted items, more needs to be done to ensure a safe and secure operational environment conducive to the timely delivery of humanitarian assistance to people in need. All of these incidents delay the provision of urgently need help to those most affected by the conflict while at the same time putting humanitarian staff at risk.

As basic social services in Yemen are near collapse, there is mounting pressure on humanitarian organisations to expand the humanitarian response. Ensuring unhindered humanitarian access is essential to save the lives of those who depend on assistance, particularly as Yemen is facing an unprecedented cholera crisis and over seven million people are at risk of famine. I urge all parties to the conflict to uphold their obligations under international humanitarian law to facilitate the safe and unhindered delivery of humanitarian assistance in areas under their control.