Emergency treatment and prevention of cholera in Yemen
According to the United Nations, Yemen currently faces the world’s worst cholera outbreak. Over 1000 deaths have been reported as a result of the outbreak, which began in April. As of June, the fatality rate has reached 0.7% and in Sana’a City, which has the highest number of cholera cases, more than 20,000 people have been affected.
Cholera is an infection of the small intestine, typically caused by the consumption of contaminated food or water. The disease is viewed by experts as both preventable and easily treatable – most cases can be treated with oral re-hydration solution, other more severe ones with intravenous fluids and antibiotics.
For those in many areas of Yemen who have no access to medical care, however, the severity of the case does not matter. Cholera, untreated, leads to diarrhoea, dehydration and shock – able to kill in days.
The drastic rise in the number of cholera cases in Yemen is a direct result of ongoing conflicts - war and economic difficulties - which have made more than half of the country’s health facilities no longer functional. Garbage collection remains irregular, health and sanitary workers often go months without pay and more than eight million people lack access to clean water sources. The cost of medicine is also continuously rising, putting internally displaced persons and poor people especially at risk. Suspected cholera cases are likely to exceed 300,000 in the next few months.
International Medical Corps, with funding from the Start Fund, has been working in Yemen to provide an emergency response to the cholera crisis, providing life-saving support with the goal of averting this entirely preventable outbreak.
The response is focused upon both prevention and treatment of cholera. Prevention efforts, which look to long term approaches, include monitoring the quality of water through biological and chemical tests and distributing chlorine water tablets for the water systems.
International Medical Corps also has been giving health and hygiene education sessions to increase awareness about hand washing and personal hygiene practices and mobilising community health volunteers to identify suspected cholera cases and refer them to the nearest health facility.
Treatment efforts include setting up Diarrhoea Treatment Units and Oral Re-hydration Points in selected health facilities in various districts, which can treat mild and moderate cases of cholera.
International Medical Corps’ community health volunteers work to identify cholera cases and refer them to the nearest health facility, where those affected can receive antibiotics. International Medical Corps has also distributed more than 230 health and hygiene kits to families in Al Rahaba village, while giving education sessions about practices to prevent cholera.
In addition, International Medical Corps works with governorate health offices, hospital managers and other NGOs to respond to urgent needs in Aden and Lahj Governates. Community health volunteers have also been identifying water systems, water supplies and wells that have been contaminated, so that local councils can purify the water supplies.
International Medical Corps’ ongoing presence in Yemen, since 2012, has allowed for partnerships with the Ministry of Health and various hospitals and government offices, as well as extensive community based outreach and networks of trained community health volunteers even before the start of this cholera response.