Cholera Outbreak in Yemen

Cholera Outbreak in Yemen

Several weeks ago in early May, the first ever oral vaccination campaign kicked off in four districts of Aden, Yemen, with the aim of reaching 350,000 people. This campaign was borne in an effort to combat a resurgence of what the UN has deemed the world’s worst cholera outbreak in history. Although the epidemic began 18 months prior in 2016 as a result of war and a sanitation crisis, the World Health Organization has stated that it only recently gained permission from senior Houthi officials, who had previously objected to the vaccinations.

Cholera is a waterborne illness that doctors have known how to treat and prevent since the 1800s. Despite this, Yemen has seen over 1 million cases and almost 3,000 deaths as a result of this contagious disease. How did this come to be? Officials have attributed the epidemic to the collapse of the nation’s health care system as a result of war, as well as lack of access to proper resources such as fuel, clean food and clean water. The disease is spread through contamination of water and food, and can be deadly if patients lose too many fluids through vomiting or diarrhea. In a country like Yemen, which imports more than 80 percent of its food and water, access to ports is vital, as they are the gateway for clean food and water to enter the country. However, since the start of the proxy war between the Iran-aligned Houthis and the Saudi-backed government of President Hadi, the Saudi coalition has blockaded and bombed the nation’s ports, effectively destroying their public water and sanitation systems. In addition to this, the nation’s health system has crumbled, with health workers going unpaid for months. Even humanitarian aid administered by international campaigns are floundering due to the lack of existing infrastructure in the country.

Eighteen months after the deterioration of the health system and infrastructure in Yemen, the World Health Organization has finally succeeded in administering the first set of vaccines, beginning on May 6th. However, some scientists doubt the effectiveness of such vaccinations campaigns as the vaccination is strongest when it is administered to countries who are not yet affected by the illness. As of May 2018, cholera had spread to almost all of Yemen’s provinces.

By Deepika Singh (a Program Associate with People Demand Change, Inc.)

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