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Yemen hits 1 million cases of cholera as even more preventable diseases wreak havoc on Yemeni children

As Yemen continues to face the largest cholera outbreak in modern history, reaching one million cases this week, easily preventable diseases spread rapidly across the country

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  • The war has led to a total breakdown in the healthcare system, leading to poor vaccination programs and low supply of necessary medical supplies
  • Vaccine treatable diseases like measles, mumps, and diphtheria spreading rapidly across the country
  • The International Rescue Committee is reaching 712 children with vaccines each week, but continual stock outs means this is a fraction of those in need
  • Saudi-led Coalition continues to restrict import of necessary medical supplies and antitoxins, impeding humanitarian response

Today, suspected cholera cases have hit one million in Yemen, a country ravaged by war, suffering from the largest humanitarian crisis in the world, and facing a near-famine. But, now, the country is sickened with even more outbreaks from vaccine-preventable diseases like measles, mumps, and diphtheria, said the International Rescue Committee today. While the cholera epidemic has slowed, an average of 700 cases and one death per day are still being reported. The war has directly resulted in years of poor vaccination programs and low immunization coverage for Yemen’s children. Now, the consequences are coming to bear. Yemen has seen more than 200 cases of diptheria, a highly lethal and contagious disease that has not been seen in the country in 25 years.

With more than 50% of healthcare facilities destroyed by fighting and airstrikes, and a mass exodus of trained physicians, Yemen’s healthcare system is ill equipped to deal with such disease outbreaks. The Saudi-led restrictions on commercial imports continues to impede import of necessary treatments and vaccines, and the war continues to prevent access to vulnerable, suffering populations. Humanitarians have the ability to stop diseases from spreading if given access.

“This suffering is the direct result of a fractured healthcare system due to prolonged conflict in the country,” said Michelle Gayer, Senior Director of Emergency Health at the IRC. “Cholera has plagued the Yemeni people since April, and now easily preventable diseases are beginning to wreak havoc on a population already in need. If the war continues, Yemen will see even more outbreaks of other diseases that have not been seen in years. Right now, the antitoxin for diphtheria is non existent in Yemen. All we can do is isolate the individual with the disease, give them fluids, and hope they get better.”

Children are suffering the most. Three years into the war, there is a generation of children who have never received any vaccinations, and each day that Yemenis don’t receive vaccinations, the ability to control these outbreaks becomes more and more difficult. Abdullah, 3, was born the same year the war began and was recently treated for cholera and malnutrition by an IRC mobile health clinic in Lahj. Abdullah’s father, Abdul, told the IRC, “Ever since this child was born into this life, he has been sick. The wars and the fighting is the reason my son is always sick, and why I cannot find a job. I wish the war in Yemen would stop. I just want safety and security. All of us have to stop the war, stop the arguments, stop shooting guns.”

The IRC depends on the ministry of health for vaccines to deliver through 16 mobile health clinics in 8 governorates, but continual stock outs and poor access prevent the most in need from receiving treatment. IRC community health workers are sensitizing their neighbors to the signs, symptoms and ways of preventing diphtheria, but access to the antitoxin is necessary to treat this fatal disease.

The international community is turning a blind eye to the suffering of millions. All parties to this conflict continue to violate international law and harm innocent civilians.

About the IRC

The International Rescue Committee responds to the world’s worst humanitarian crises, helping to restore health, safety, education, economic wellbeing, and power to people devastated by conflict and disaster. Founded in 1933 at the call of Albert Einstein, the IRC is at work in over 40 countries and 28 offices across the U.S. helping people to survive, reclaim control of their future, and strengthen their communities. Learn more at www.rescue.org and follow the IRC on Twitter & Facebook.