Wednesday,18 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1355, (3-9 August 2017)
Wednesday,18 July, 2018
Issue 1355, (3-9 August 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Yemen and Sudan: Cholera spreads

The rainy season in Yemen and Sudan could exacerbate the spread of cholera, making a desperate situation in both countries much worse, writes Haitham Nouri


Yemen and Sudan: Cholera spreads
Yemen and Sudan: Cholera spreads

اقرأ باللغة العربية

The beginning of the rainy season has started in both Yemen and Sudan, with growing fears of an outbreak of cholera or watery diarrhoea among citizens in these two poor countries who are living in fierce war zones with no sign of an end in sight.

According to the fourth report of the World Health Organisation (WHO) on 19 July, in Yemen the number of people infected with the cholera virus has reached 36,245, while the number of deaths has reached 1,817. Some 41 per cent of the infected are children under the age of 15, while those who are over 60 years are 33 per cent of cases. The report indicates that 21 out of 23 governorates are affected by the disease, while the number of centres and districts affected reached 292 out of a total 333.

According to the map attached to the report, the most affected provinces were the capital, Amran and Al-Bayda. These areas are the most vulnerable to bombing by Arab coalition forces led by Saudi Arabia.

To counter the unprecedented spread of the disease, 21 local and international partners have been deployed in the 121 areas most affected of all.

In its cholera-related medical and emergency response, the international community has been unable to raise more than $10.5 million out of the $64 million needed for medicine and vaccines. Yet, UNICEF, WHO and their partners are racing to stop the accelerating and deadly outbreak. They are working around the clock to track the spread of the disease and to reach people with clean water, adequate sanitation and medical treatment.

Although 5,000 people have contracted the disease every day across the country, the mortality rate has dropped to 0.5 per cent, which means that 99.5 per cent of cholera patients have survived. The rainy season could be a setback for Yemen’s modest progress in fighting the disease by increasing the chances of transmission.

The United Nations and its organisations working in Yemen consider the control of cholera still far from reach, and according to the UN statement, the country faces “the widest spread of the epidemic disease in the world.”

Oxfam, one of the world’s largest humanitarian relief organisations, estimates that by the end of the rainy season — from July to September — the number of infected people will reach 600,000. This number is the highest figure in Oxfam records since its establishment in 1949. Sources in Oxfam, quoted by Reuters, believe that if these figures of infected people are correct, Yemen could exceed what was recorded in Haiti after its 2010 earthquake. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs estimated the number of cholera cases detected in Haiti in 2011 at 720,000, and the number of deaths at about 8,770.

The spokeswoman for World Health Organisation in Geneva commented on Oxfam’s assessment that it would not be easy for the Yemenis and those who would come forward to fight the disease. It is known that the first cases detected in Yemen were on 6 October 2016; about 11 cases were confirmed out of 25. Despite the slow spread of the disease in the last months of 2016, a second cholera outbreak in early January 2017 hit the country, with more than 15,658 cases monitored.

Currently, the disease is spreading in a population of up to five million Yemenis, in one of the poorest countries in the world. This deadly cholera outbreak is the direct consequence of years of heavy conflict, a country that has also been living a civil war for years, and amid bombings by Arab coalition forces led by Saudi Arabia.

As UN Secretary General António Guterres warned a few weeks after taking office in January, Yemen is on the verge of famine. Relief organisations are battling to implement measures to scale up prevention and treatment.

In Sudan, the government still denies the presence of cholera in the country, the disease assessed as “severe watery diarrhoea”, according to Health Minister Bahr Idris Abu Garda in a statement: “The water diarrhoea is widespread in 12 states out of the country’s 18 states, the most affected of which is Al-Jazirah with 28 confirmed cases.” Al-Jazirah — the central island — is considered the largest agricultural region in the country. The minister added that four people were confirmed dead from watery diarrhoea, but according to the Federal Ministry of Health, 186 new cases were detected during this month. In the Nile River states (North) 27 cases; Al-Qadarif (on the border with Ethiopia) 25 cases; in the White Nile (south of the capital) 20 cases; North Kordofan (in the centre) 17 cases; South Darfur (Southwest) 16 cases; Sennar (South) 15 cases; South Kordofan 10 cases; East and North Darfur eight cases; four cases in Blue Nile and West Kordofan and two cases in Kassala (Far East). But the minister did not specifically mention the total number of people suffering from “watery diarrhoea”. Other medical sources have estimated the number at several thousand.

In the United Kingdom, the Association of Sudanese Doctors has called on the government to officially announce the presence of cholera, to prevent spread of the outbreak. Observers believe that the government refuses to acknowledge the existence of the epidemic, fearing panic could turn into chaos in a country that is waging civil wars in Darfur, Blue Nile and South Kordofan.

Opposition sources have reported that cholera has been present since September 2016, and in May the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said the epidemic is believed to be cholera and hit the capital, Khartoum, spreading to the nearby state of North Kordofan.

Dabanga, the opposition radio station broadcasting its programmes from Amsterdam, says the epidemic disease, which many insist is cholera, has begun to spread in Darfur (the far west) and the isolation health centre in North Darfur had more than 43 cases. Al-Ahram Weekly could not confirm the figure from independent sources.

Doctors and students posted videos on social media networks showing that schools have been turned into isolation centres and clinics for treatment. Campaigns are formed for distributing antibiotics and teams are going house-to-house to reach families with information about how to protect themselves by cleaning and correctly storing drinking water.

Doctors fear the epidemic disease will spread further in the rainy season due to collapsing health, malnutrition, and water and sanitation systems in a country reeling under civil war — a disaster added to the country’s considerable woes.

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