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Yemen cholera epidemic exceeds 500,000 in four months

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The number of suspected cases of cholera resulting from an epidemic in war-torn Yemen has reached 500,000, the World Health Organisation (WHO) says.

At least 1,975 people have died since the waterborne disease began to spread rapidly at the end of April.

The WHO said the overall caseload had declined since July, but that 5,000 people a day were still being infected.

The disease spread due to deteriorating hygiene and sanitation conditions and disruptions to the water supply.

More than 14 million people are cut off from regular access to clean water and sanitation in Yemen, and waste collection has ceased in major cities.

Cholera is an acute diarrhoeal infection caused by ingestion of food or water contaminated with the bacterium Vibrio cholera.

Most of those infected will have no or mild symptoms but, in severe cases, the disease can kill within hours if left untreated.

Yemen’s health service has struggled to cope with the cholera epidemic – currently the largest in the world – with more than half of all medical facilities closed due to damage sustained during more than two years of conflict between pro-government forces and the rebel Houthi movement.

The WHO said shortages in medicines and supplies were persistent and widespread, and that 30,000 health workers had not been paid in almost a year.

“Yemen’s health workers are operating in impossible conditions,” said the WHO’s director general, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

“Thousands of people are sick, but there are not enough hospitals, not enough medicines, not enough clean water.

“These doctors and nurses are the backbone of the health response – without them we can do nothing in Yemen. They must be paid their wages so that they can continue to save lives.”

The WHO and its partners are working to set up cholera treatment clinics, rehabilitate health facilities, deliver medical supplies and support Yemen’s health response effort.

More than 99% of people infected who can access health services are surviving.

Dr Tedros called on all sides in Yemen’s conflict, which has killed more than 8,160 people and injured 46,330 since March 2015, to urgently find a political solution.

“The people of Yemen cannot bear it much longer – they need peace to rebuild their lives and their country,” he added.


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