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Back in early 2016, Yemen ranked third globally for the number of reported cases of cholera, a disease all too common in developing countries with poor access to reliable water and sanitation facilities. Cholera is an infection of the small intestine that, with proper treatment, can be cured in 99 percent of cases; without treatment, it can kill within hours. By October 2016, the disease moved into the headlines in war-torn Yemen as the first wave of one of the worst cholera outbreaks in modern history began.

  • The peak of the first wave came at the end of 2016 and receded by mid-April of 2017, an improvement that was short lived.
  • More than 10,000 cases were reported during the week starting May 8, which was about 75 percent of the total number of cases for the year to date. And, this was just the beginning. During the week of July 10 alone, 41,833 cases new cases were reported.
  • By December, total cases since April had reached 994,751, including 2,226 related deaths. Al Hudaydah, Yemen’s fourth largest city and home to a vital port, was hit especially hard, with a total of nearly 150,000 cases.

Treating cholera in Yemen is as much about the ongoing war as anything else, since restricted access to aid and the overwhelmed and devastated healthcare infrastructure impede treatment. 

  • Estimates to date indicate that in 2016 nearly 24,000 people died due to conflict and terrorism in Yemen. Of these, 2,536 people died in battle, placing Yemen on par with Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan.
  • Aid delivery has been limited by border security issues. In addition, Yemen’s warm climate and its poor water quality and sanitation—only half of the population is served with improved sanitation and water—have also contributed to the worsening situation.
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