Yemen: Urgent Need for Aid in Remote Areas to Stop Cholera Deaths

Malak Shaher/MSF

SANA'A, YEMEN/NEW YORK, AUGUST 3, 2017—Though the number of new cholera cases across Yemen has slowed in the past 10 days, people living in remote areas are still dying needlessly and more will die unless aid is increased urgently and preventative measures are taken at the community level, said the international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) Thursday.

More than 430,000 people have been affected by the disease since the outbreak was declared on April 27. 

“Some weeks ago, one of my neighbors suffered from severe diarrhea and vomiting,” said Zayed Al Goidi, from Beit Al Ghwadi, a village in Osman valley, one of the most remote areas of Amran governorate. “He died the same day, but no one knew the reason. We don’t have televisions or phones, and few of us have a radio, so it took a long time before we understood it was cholera.”

“The ability to identify the disease is not enough to save the villagers, most of whom cannot afford to travel for medical care,” said Al Goidi. “The nearest health facility is several hours from the village and the journey costs up to 60 dollars (US). We’re poor and we have almost no means of making a living, so how can we pay so much money? To save our lives, we have to pledge our property: our land, our wives’ jewelry.”

MSF epidemiological data show that the Osman valley is one of the areas most affected by cholera, said Ghassan Abou Chaar, MSF head of mission in Yemen.

“Its remote location, people’s poor living conditions, and their lack of knowledge about cholera have all contributed to the spread of the disease and the number of deaths caused by it,” said Abou Chaar. “We can’t simply wait and treat only patients who manage to reach our cholera treatment centers. If we don’t reach locations such as the Osman valley, people will keep dying.”

Dr Mohamed Musoke, MSF’s emergency coordinator for cholera, traveled to Beit Al Ghwadi from MSF’s hospital in Khamir, a two-and-a-half hour drive away.

“The road is very difficult and this place is almost completely cut off,” said Musoke. “On our way here we crossed the river, the main water source for the community. We saw animals drinking from it, people washing their clothes in it and mothers giving their children water from it to drink.”

In mid-July, MSF teams distributed hygiene items to hundreds of households in the Osman valley and organized awareness sessions on cholera.

Since the beginning of the outbreak, MSF has provided cholera treatments to more than 82,000 people— one-fifth of all cases identified in the country. To bring the outbreak under control, MSF calls for other organizations to coordinate their activities and include water and sanitation efforts and health education in their response.

“Wells and water points need to be treated, and people need to be educated in how they can protect themselves from cholera, especially with the upcoming rainy season,” said Abou Chaar.

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