Yemen - Yemen has suffered devastating destruction because of the two year conflict. The country is in the grip of a humanitarian crisis in which two million people have been displaced, malnutrition is rife, and, the United Nations estimates, a Yemeni child dies every ten minutes from preventable illnesses. Now a cholera outbreak has become the latest, deadly threat. In the last few weeks, the illness has claimed over 220 lives (source Yemen Health Ministry), and thousands more are ill.
Two year old Ragdad Sorari has been brought to Sabeen Hospital in Sana’a. For children of her age, cholera is especially dangerous, and it can kill within hours if untreated. Naturally, Ragdad’s father, Ahmad, is worried.
“She is unable to eat,” he says. “She vomits everything and diarrhea is constant.”
It rained on us here outside yesterday night and it was very cold at night.”
In countries free from conflict, where the health service functions, cholera would be easily and quickly treated. But in Yemen less than half of all health facilities are still working, and Sabeen hospital is now overflowing with patients. Some, like 14 year old Abdullah Mohammad, are especially vulnerable. He suffers from a congenital brain disease which means he cannot talk or move. Now he has contracted cholera, and his mother Um Abdullah is becoming desperate.
“When he first got sick, he had diarrhea and vomiting” she explains. “We took him to a clinic, but they referred us here to the Sabeen Hospital for cholera cases. We came here yesterday and they gave him rehydration salts, but he isn’t getting any better.”
The International Committee of the Red Cross is supporting Sabeen hospital and others across Yemen with medical supplies. But the conflict can mean big delays before vital medicines can be delivered, and meanwhile more and more people are in need. There are so many patients at Sabeen hospital now, that some are forced to wait for treatment outside in the open air. At night, as Ragdad’s father pointed out, it gets very cold.
Across Sana’a at Al Jumhouri hospital, the story is the same: wards are overflowing, and every bed is full, some patients are even forced to share, or to lie on the floor. When the ICRC’s director of operations Dominik Stillhart visited, he found dedicated medical staff working round the clock, but struggling to cope.
“I could see myself, how difficult the situation has become to provide services in a country that is suffering from conflict and lack of income,” said Mr Stillhart. “There is an increasing number of patients, including many cholera patients that we have seen in the ward, it is completely full.”
“The team here under the leadership of Dr Nasser is doing a fantastic job, in a very difficult situation.”
And still the patients keep arriving. Cholera, a waterborne disease, will spread rapidly when clean water supplies are scarce, or have been damaged by conflict. Thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of cases, can be expected. This week Yemen’s government declared a state of emergency because of the outbreak. The ICRC will do its utmost to ensure lifesaving treatments arrive in time, and once again appeals to all parties to the conflict to allow unimpeded access for humanitarian aid.