Middle East

Yemen war: Surge in cholera outbreak kills 34 - WHO

A girl infected with cholera lies on the ground at a hospital in Sanaa, Yemen (7 May 2017) Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Children are particularly vulnerable to the water-borne disease

A resurgence of a cholera outbreak in war-torn Yemen is believed to have killed 34 people in the past two weeks.

The World Health Organisation says 2,022 suspected cases of cholera and acute watery diarrhoea (AWD) were reported between 27 April and 7 May.

Some 26,000 people have now been affected since October by the outbreak, which subsided over the winter.

The country's health system and civilian infrastructure are collapsing after two years of conflict.

The WHO says fewer than 45% of health facilities are fully functioning, with almost 300 damaged or destroyed in fighting between forces loyal to President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi - who is backed by a Saudi-led multinational coalition - and those allied to the Houthi rebel movement.

More than eight million people also lack access to drinking water and sanitation.

A WHO spokesman said recent heavy rains had washed away piles of uncollected waste into wells and water sources. In addition, warmer weather is creating a favourable environment for the pathogens that cause cholera to spread.

Cholera is a water-borne disease that is transmitted through contaminated water and food. Symptoms include acute diarrhoea and vomiting. People ill with cholera can become very sick and, when it is left untreated, death can occur within hours.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The WHO said preventing the spread of the outbreak was a "high priority"

Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), which has set up cholera treatment centres within five hospitals to isolate and treat patients presenting symptoms and is supporting other facilities, expressed fear that the local health authorities alone would not be able to deal with the surge in cases.

"We are very concerned that the disease will continue to spread and become out of control," warned the charity's head of mission in Yemen, Shinjiro Murata.

Mr Murata said humanitarian assistance needed to be scaled up urgently.

Image copyright EPA
Image caption MSF said local health authorities alone might not be able to deal with the surge

The WHO spokesman said preventing the spread of the outbreak was a high priority and that it was co-ordinating efforts "with all parties to ensure an effective and rapid response".

The UN says more than 8,010 people - mostly civilians - have been killed and close to 44,500 others injured since the conflict in Yemen escalated in March 2015.

The fighting has also left 18.8 million people in need of humanitarian assistance.

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