Yemen: Cholera outbreak now largest and fastest on record, 600,000 children infected by Christmas

Wednesday 11 October 2017

A young boy being treated at the Al Salakana Hospital in the Al Hali district of Hodeida governerate. Mohammed Awadh/Save the Children

Yemen’s cholera outbreak will reach more than a million cases by Christmas at current rates, including at least 600,000 children, Save the Children is warning.

The epidemic has already spread faster than any outbreak of cholera since modern records began – and is now the largest in recent history. (1)

About 4,000 suspected cases are still being reported every day, more than half of them children under the age of 18. Of those infected, 25% of cases are children under the age of five. (2)

As of October 10, the WHO has reported 815,314 suspected cases and 2,156 deaths across Yemen since April 27.

That means the outbreak has today surpassed the 815,000 cases reported over seven years in Haiti. In Yemen, it has reached that level in less than six months. (3)

At current rates, Save the Children estimates the total caseload is likely to break a million by December. (4)

Tamer Kirolos, Save the Children’s Country Director for Yemen, said:

“Cholera has been around in Yemen for a long time, but we’ve never seen an outbreak of this scale or speed. It’s what you get when a country is brought to its knees by conflict, when a healthcare system is on the brink of collapse, when its children are starving, and when its people are blocked from getting the medical treatment they need.”

“There’s no doubt this is a man-made crisis. Cholera only rears its head when there’s a complete and total breakdown in sanitation. All parties to the conflict must take responsibility for the health emergency we find ourselves in.”

Recent research by Save the Children found that there are more than 1 million acutely malnourished children under the age of five living in areas where cholera infection levels are high. Children with acute malnutrition are at least three times more likely to die from diarrheal diseases like cholera.

Diarrhoeal diseases like cholera are also themselves a leading cause of malnutrition – raising fears that even if children survive the outbreak they could be pushed further towards starvation.
Mr. Kirolos added:

“It’s simply unacceptable that children are trapped in a brutal cycle of starvation and sickness. We are dealing with a horrific scenario of babies and young children who are not only malnourished but also infected with cholera.

“The tragedy is both malnutrition and cholera are easily treatable if you have access to basic healthcare. But hospitals have been destroyed, 30,000 public sector health workers haven't been paid for almost a year, and the delivery of vital aid is being obstructed. The world must act now to prevent more children from dying from an entirely preventable illness.”

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Notes to editors

  1. The World Health Organisation’s Global Health Observatory (GHO) records cholera outbreaks between 1949-2016. The largest outbreak over a single year during this period was 340,311 suspected cases, reported in Haiti in 2011.
  2. According to the WHO, children under 18 years old represent 60% of cases. Children under the age of 5 represent 25.45% of suspected cases and 16.93% of deaths.
  3. The largest recorded outbreak in the World Health Organisation’s Global Health Observatory (GHO) is 795,794 cases in Haiti between 2010-2016. An update for 2017 from the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported 815,000 cases in Haiti from October 2010 to August 2017.
  4. At current rates, Save the Children’s trend forecasts suggest that level will be reached by early December.

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