The World Health Organization (WHO) warned on Monday that cholera cases in Yemen this year hit the half a million mark over the weekend. The health organization reported that about 500,000 people have become infected since the cholera outbreak began in April, and at least 2,000 people have died.

WHO estimates that about 5,000 people become sick with the disease every day. The organization said that while the overall caseload nationwide has declined since July –especially in the worst affected areas– suspected cases of the disease continue to “rage across the country.”

Image credit: Reuters / Khaled Abdullah /
Image credit: Reuters / Khaled Abdullah /

Yemen’s cholera outbreak has spread rapidly due to a three-year war that continues to devastate the country and its public health system.

Yemen’s cholera epidemic has left more than 2,000 dead

The cholera epidemic is currently the largest in the world. The waterborne disease is relatively easy to treat, but Yemen is facing countless problems and continues to spread due to deteriorating hygiene, sanitation conditions, and disruptions to the water supply across the country, according to WHO.

The conditions are so severe that millions of people are currently cut off from clean water, and garbage collection has stopped in many cities. The United Nations health entity says the outbreak is a “man-made catastrophe” inflicted by more than two years of devastating war between a Saudi-controlled military coalition and Iran-backed Houthi fighters.

“Yemen’s health workers are operating in impossible conditions,” said Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director General, according to a statement. “Thousands of people are sick, but there are not enough hospitals, not enough medicines, not enough clean water.”

The cholera epidemic is currently the largest in the world. Image credit: Aljazeera
The cholera epidemic is currently the largest in the world. Image credit: Aljazeera

More than half of all health facilities in Yemen have been closed due to damage, destruction or lack of funds. WHO said shortages in medicines and supplies are now persistent and widespread around the country, and over 30,000 health workers have not been paid salaries in almost a year.

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

Nearly 15 million people don’t have healthcare access in Yemen

The health organization stressed they are currently working “around the clock” alongside partners to set up cholera treatment clinics and rehabilitate health facilities. They are also working to deliver medical supplies, and to support the country’s health response effort.

Dr. Ghebreyesus said that to save lives in Yemen, they must support the health system, particularly the health workers.

“And we urge the Yemeni authorities –and all those in the region and elsewhere who can play a role—to find a political solution to this conflict that has already caused so much suffering,” noted Dr. Ghebreyesus. “The people of Yemen cannot bear it much longer – they need peace to rebuild their lives and their country.”

The organization estimates that more than 99 percent of people sick with suspected cholera who can access health services are surviving. However, almost 15 million people are unable to get basic health care in Yemen.

Source: World Health Organization