Cholera could resurge in Yemen due to lack of aid, fuel: WHO

GENEVA (Reuters) – Another wave of cholera could strike Yemen, where a Saudi-led coalition blockade has cut off fuel for hospitals, water pumps and vital aid supplies for starving children, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Sunday.

FILE PHOTO: A man infected with cholera lies on a bed at a cholera treatment center in Sanaa, Yemen, May 15, 2017. REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah/File Photo

Dr. Nevio Zagaria, WHO country representative in Yemen, told Reuters that 16 percent of Yemeni children under the age of five suffer from acute malnutrition, including 5.2 percent with a severe form that is life-threatening, and the problem is increasing.

Yemen, where 8 million people face famine, is mired in a proxy war between the Iran-aligned Houthi armed movement and the U.S.-backed military coalition that the United Nations says has led to the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

Some 960,000 suspected cases of cholera and 2,219 deaths have been reported since the epidemic began in April, WHO figures show.

Children account for nearly a third of infections of the waterborne disease, spread by food or water contaminated with human feces, that causes acute diarrhoea and dehydration and can kill within hours if untreated.

Although the number of new cases has dropped for 11 straight weeks, 35 districts in Yemen are still reporting cholera with “high attack rates” in communities, Zagaria said.

A deteriorating economic situation and lack of safe drinking water, due to water sewage systems in many cities lacking fuel for the pumps, have compounded the humanitarian crisis, he said.

“This is a perfect mix to have a new explosion of a cholera epidemic at the beginning of the rainy season in March of next year,” Zagaria said in a telephone interview from Sanaa, amid four days of clashes in the capital city.

WHO is working with local authorities in both the internationally recognized government and Houthi-controlled Sana‘a to identify areas at highest risk of a spike in the cholera epidemic and to boost defences, he said.

A campaign of oral cholera vaccination – initially planned last July during an acute phase and then abandoned by authorities – is now under reconsideration but as a preventive action next year, he said.

Meanwhile, a ship carrying 35 tonnes of WHO surgical and medical supplies is being diverted to Aden after waiting weeks to offload at Hodeidah port, Zagaria said.

“We are waiting and hoping that the situation of the blockade will be resolved….

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