Yemen: Cholera cases on the rise again

A mother holds her child in an MSF-supported cholera treatment center in Al-Sadaqa hospital in June 2017.
Yemen 2017 © Malak Shaher/MSF
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PARIS/NEW YORK, March 27, 2019—Medical teams in Yemen are seeing a dramatic increase in cholera cases, demonstrating the urgent need for humanitarian assistance to improve water and sanitation in the war-torn country, the international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) said today.

From January 1 to March 26, MSF admitted 7,938 patients with suspected cholera to its health facilities in Amran, Hajjah, Ibb, and Taiz governorates. About half of these patients are from Ibb governorate. Over the same period, the number of suspected or confirmed cholera patients increased from 140 to 2,000 per week.

"Cholera is considered endemic in Yemen, but the increase in cases is concerning, as the rainy season—which could aggravate the overall situation—has not even started yet," said Hassan Boucenine, MSF head of mission in Yemen. "Strengthening water and sanitation activities is a priority, as they are essential in the fight against cholera." 

MSF teams have opened a 50-bed cholera treatment center in Khamer, have increased the bed capacity of the cholera treatment unit in Taiz, and have bolstered health centers in Ibb governorate. An MSF-supported health center is also treating patients in Huth, in Amran governorate, which has been heavily affected by cholera.

In Sana'a, MSF teams are renovating a department of Al Kuwait hospital to turn it into a functioning cholera treatment center. MSF has delivered 30,000 liters of Ringer's lactate solution—used for replacing fluids and electrolytes in dehydrated patients—to Sana'a.

Between 2016 and 2017, two waves of cholera hit Yemen. Although the disease was subsequently brought under control, health authorities and medical organizations have continued to see cholera cases in almost every governorate in the country. 

As a four-year-old war continues, Yemen's health facilities are heavily strained and many people cannot access medical care from the few hospitals that still function. In addition to cholera, outbreaks of other vaccine preventable diseases, such as diphtheria and measles, remain a health risk and a cause of death.