Credit: Hugh Macleod / IRIN/Creative Commons
Yemen’s cholera outbreak has killed at least 2,177 people since 27 April. The World Health Organization now estimates the number of suspected cholera cases to be over 862,000, as of 22 October, making Yemen’s outbreak the world’s worst on record.
The majority of those suffering from the disease are children. Aid groups estimate that as many as 600,000 children will be infected by the end of the year, and the total number of cases is expected to reach one million. Over two million Yemeni children are acutely malnourished, so they are the most vulnerable to contracting the disease and much more likely to die from it when they do. Overall, eleven million children in Yemen are in need of some humanitarian aid.
Cholera is a preventable and treatable disease, but conditions created by the coalition war and blockade have made both prevention and treatment much harder. The bombing campaign has damaged or destroyed many treatment plants, hospitals, clinics, and wrecked much of the country’s infrastructure, and all of this has created the conditions for a massive health crisis. In a country already suffering from widespread malnutrition and near-famine conditions in many places because of the blockade, this has been a recipe for disaster. The blockade impedes the delivery of essential food and medicine, and it raises the cost of these goods so that most in this devastated and impoverished country can’t afford to pay for what little does get through. All parties to the conflict are responsible for creating these conditions, but the coalition and its patrons have done most of the damage over the last two and a half years. The coalition and its Western backers, including our government, also have it within their power to halt the bombing and end the blockade, but they refuse to do so.
The cholera epidemic in Yemen is the worst on record, and it is also the fastest-spreading epidemic of its kind in modern times. The disaster unfolding in Yemen is unprecedented there or anywhere else:
“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,” said Tamer Kirolos, Save the Children’s Country Director for Yemen.
The epidemic is just one part of the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. It is something that could be more effectively combated if there were a cease-fire, an end to the blockade, and a massive infusion of aid. Until those things happen, aid groups will continue to struggle against the rapid spread of a disease with inadequate resources and insufficient funding, and the epidemic will continue to grow worse.