Yemen is battling the largest documented cholera epidemic in modern times

World Today

Yemen is battling the largest documented cholera epidemic in modern times

Experts fear the cholera crisis in Yemen will get worse, thanks to the war that’s devastating the country’s infrastructure.

CGTN’s Natalie Carney filed this report from the port city of Aden in Yemen.


Follow Natalie Carney on Twitter @NatalieCarney77

Three-year-olds Samira and Omar are twins, and both have cholera.

“At first the kids were playing in dirty places, then they got diarrhea,” their mother explained. “Because the children are playing together, it goes from one to the other.”

The family members are refugees from Somalia, and live in a makeshift space in Aden with no sanitary facilities. The children spend their time outside playing with other neighborhood kids, in bare feet.

Just down the road from the twins, 4-year-old Abdulrizza also has cholera. Their neighborhood registers the highest number of cholera cases in all of Aden.

Everyday, health adviser Gemel Abdu Mohamed Abu Bakir goes around to educate mothers about proper protective measures, such as hygiene.

“We enter people’s houses […]  to educate them about hygiene and to tell them, if there is a case of diarrhea, they have to come to the hospital to be cured,” Bakir said. “If you keep them an hour, two hours at home, this hour may be fatal for him. An hour leads to death, half an hour can lead to death.”

The cholera ward at Al Sadaka Hospital has seen an increase in patients within the last month.

“In August, it was only three, four cases a day, but yesterday it was 20 cases just in the morning,” Dr. Manal Salem said. “The main problem is the lack of water. Water is not available. Even we are suffering from that at home. Water is very rare. We get water only a few hours a day.”

More than one million people had cholera between 2016 and 2018. Nearly 2,400 of them died. It’s a far cry from a rough annual count of 17, and 500 registered with the disease prior to the war.

According to the United Nations, nearly 275,000 people were vaccinated against cholera earlier this year in Aden alone. Even so, the rate at which people are getting infected is increasing, and cholera cases are also being seen in areas previously unaffected.

The deplorable state of health care facilities in the country is making the situation worse. They’ve also become victims of the fighting.

In June, a brand new cholera treatment center, run by Doctors without Boarders, was hit by an air strike. A struggling economy has forced many hospitals to close across the country or work on bare minimum.

“We have shortage of nurses, we haven’t enough doctors,” Dr. Jamel of a children’s cancer ward explained. “The war has totally affected all aspects of the life […]The price of everything here, because of this crisis, is increasing too much. The price of drugs, for example, the price of food even, the price of transport, everything is increasing.”

Most patients are not able to finish their chemotherapy treatment because of the cost, or simply access to it.

“You come here and there is no medicine. There are no needles. You’ve seen how dirty this place is, the smell, the place stinks,” Breast Cancer Patient Nasaf Hassan Ali said. “They are not even able to repair the lift. The NGOs give money, but we don’t see where that money is going. It doesn’t reach us.”

The good news is that care and awareness for cholera is improving across Yemen, but health care in general has become one of the most detrimental casualties of this war.

While the majority is cured of cholera with proper medical care, without an improvement to their living environment many are likely to catch the disease again. The spread of cholera is likely to be more rampant with the heavy rains of winter on the way.