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A race against time

14 February 2017, Impact of Our Work, Emergencies
Weak, malnourished and caught in a brutal conflict, Yemen’s children now face the world’s worst cholera outbreak. It's a tragedy that could easily have been prevented.

They’ve already been through so much, but now more than one million children under five are at risk of cholera in Yemen. It’s the worst recorded outbreak anywhere in the world and it’s hitting children the hardest.

“Children are dying from an entirely preventable disease right in front of our eyes,” says Muhsin Siddiquey from Save the Children in Yemen.

Most worrying is how the outbreak will impact children who are already malnourished and who are living in areas like Al Hali in Hodeidah, which has Yemen’s highest number of cholera cases.

These are children who haven't had access to proper healthcare, clean water or enough food since civil war broke out two years ago. Already hungry and weak, malnourished children are three times more likely to die if they contract cholera than healthy children. Their immune systems are simply not strong enough to fight the disease.

Why is this outbreak so bad?

Treating cholera can be as simple as keeping those affected hydrated with clean water and rehydration salts as soon as they become sick. Without this treatment, cholera can be fatal.

It is preventable, as it is spread by consuming contaminated water and food. But after two years of civil war, the people of Yemen and the structures that support them are worn down.

Nearly all healthcare systems have been destroyed. There isn’t enough food for 70% of the population, and limited access through airports and ports make it difficult for aid to be delivered. Water and sanitation systems are in a bad state, and around 14 million people don’t have access to safe drinking water.

Many people are also living in the rubble of their homes or in crowded camps – the worst places for diseases like cholera to spread.

“Children are trapped in a brutal cycle of starvation and sickness ... our teams are dealing with a horrific scenario where babies and young children are not only malnourished, but also infected with cholera,” says Tamer Kirolos from Save the Children in Yemen.

"The tragedy is that both malnutrition and cholera are easily treatable if you have access to basic healthcare.”

What’s at stake?

The situation is critical in Yemen. Since April, more than 1,900 people have died from cholera and one-third of them were children. Already more than 400,000 people have contracted cholera across the country and it will only get worse.

“The number of patients in need is shocking,” says Doctor Zaid at a hospital in Sanaa.

“People lie in the corridors ... we lack medicines and medical supplies. We do not have enough doctors and nurses.”

Organisations like Save the Children can help save lives and stop the spread of cholera. But it’s a race against time.
More than a million children suffering from acute malnutrition are caught in areas of Yemen hardest hit by a deadly outbreak of cholera. Photo: Mohammed Awadh/Save the Children

Our teams are working to save lives

Despite difficult conditions and barriers to aid reaching people in need, Save the Children is on the ground in Yemen, setting up cholera treatment centres and distributing medical supplies and oral rehydration kits. We’ve also been able to reach children and their families with education about the causes of cholera, and how to stay safe.

We currently have 14 cholera treatment centres, more than 90 rehydration units and operate 10 mobile health and nutrition teams across the country. We continue to support 97 fixed health facilities. At the time of writing this story, 160 tonnes of supplies for treating cholera were en route to Yemen.

You can help

We need your help to open more life-saving cholera treatment centres, train health workers and community volunteers, and provide communities with sanitation and hygiene supplies, including chlorine tablets, oral rehydration salts, water storage tanks and hygiene kits. You can also help efforts to raise awareness among communities about effective ways to prevent the further spread of cholera.

Children are dying from cholera and malnutrition and need your help to survive. Please donate now.

Banner image: Seven-year-old Ahmed*, infected with cholera, waits in an isolation tent until a hospital bed is made available.
Photo: Mohammed Awadh/Save the Children


*Name changed to protect identity