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Yemen cholera epidemic worst on record at 360,000 victims

Some 2,000 deaths due to cholera have been reported in just three months, Oxfam says
Yemeni child suspected of being infected with cholera is checked by doctor at makeshift hospital operated by Doctors Without Borders (AFP)

Yemen is suffering from the world’s largest cholera epidemic on record, Oxfam said on Friday morning.

The organisation documented more than 360,000 suspected cases of cholera in a three-month period, topping Haiti’s 340,000 cases after an earthquake in 2011.

Oxfam said that 2,000 people have died from the disease since the start of the outbreak in April.

“It is quite frankly staggering that in just three months more people in Yemen have contracted cholera than any country has suffered in a single year since modern records began," said Nigel Timmins, Oxfam’s humanitarian director. 

"Cholera has spread unchecked in a country already on its knees after two years of war and which is teetering on the brink of famine. For many people, weakened by war and hunger, cholera is the knockout blow.” 

“This is a massive crisis needing a massive response – if anything the numbers we have are likely to underestimate the scale of the crisis. So far, funding from government donors to pay for the aid effort has been lacklustre at best, less than half is what is needed,” he added.

On 10 July, a 10-week cholera epidemic had infected more than 300,000 people in Yemen, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said, adding that the epidemic is a health disaster to a country already ravaged by war, economic collapse and near-famine.

Yemen cholera epidemic hits more than 300,000 people
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The most intense impact has been in the western areas of the country, which have been fiercely contested in a two-year war between a Saudi-led coalition and Houthi rebels.

Yemen's economic collapse means 30,000 healthworkers have not been paid for more than 10 months, so the UN has stepped in with "incentive" payments to get them involved in an emergency campaign to fight the disease.

The spread of the disease is also being limited by "herd immunity" - the natural protection afforded by a large proportion of the population contracting and then surviving the disease.

The UN announced in early July that resources devoted toward combating malnutrition were being diverted to fighting cholera.

"Humanitarian organisations have had to reprogramme their resources away from malnutrition and reuse them to control the cholera outbreak," the UN humanitarian coordinator in Yemen, Jamie McGoldrick, told a news briefing in the capital Sanaa.

"And if we don't get these resources replaced, then using those resources for cholera will mean that food security will suffer," he said.

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