Yemen's cholera outbreak has been gaining traction with a second wave of cases that hit the country last month. More than 2,000 suspected cases are reported daily, sparking an investigation to determine whether a new and more deadly strain of the disease is the culprit.

To make matters worse, medical supplies are beginning to run low and in some hospitals, beds are shared by up to six children, intensifying the need for scientists to identify the suspected new strain at specialist laboratories in France.

The epidemic has been escalated further due to malnutrition, lack of clean water and a conflict that has destroyed infrastructure, hampering access to medical supplies.

“This is the second wave of cholera we have seen here recently, and it is spreading at an alarming rate,” said Nevio Zagaria, head of mission in Yemen for the World Health Organization (WHO).

Since 27 April, there have been 329 reported deaths and 32,056 confirmed new cases, of which, 16% are among children under five, as well as 20% among children aged five to 14.

“We have started an investigation to determine whether a new and more virulent strain of the cholera, perhaps originating in Somalia or Ethiopia, has been generating a higher mortality rate during this second wave of infection,” said Zagaria.

Lack of medicines and medically trained staff also part of the problem

The forecast for the epidemic is dismal – with figures as high as 150,000 cases of cholera – within the next six months, said WHO statisticians.

Medics on the ground say children are dying from a preventable disease as there are no supplies to treat them.

“We are urging the international organisations to scale up their response. We are facing so many challenges: we lack medicines and medical supplies, we do not have enough doctors and nurses. We don’t even have a place to wash our hands," said Dr Mohammed Zaid, a physician on the ground.

The shortage of trained medical staff also resulted in the misuse of the limited supply of intravenous fluids. However, health workers are now working philanthropically as the political upheaval and violence meant they were no longer being paid salaries.

“Medical professionals haven’t been paid for months,” said Mark Kaye, a humanitarian adviser for Save the Children. “What we see now in Yemen is a manmade disaster. As well as the latest outbreak of cholera potentially belonging to a more aggressive strain, there is a lack of systems in place to deal with the crisis."

Experts say support can be provided on the frontline but it only prevents the problem from growing instead of solving it.

Violence and conflict needs to be resolved to save children's lives

A shortage of isolation rooms in hospitals leaving patients being treated in tents. Photo credit: Mohammed Awadh/Save the Children
A shortage of isolation rooms in hospitals leaving patients being treated in tents. Photo credit: Mohammed Awadh/Save the Children

Yemen's plight highlights what violence and conflict in many regions such as the Middle East and North Africa, does to the lives of over 24 million children.

The United Nation's children agency said the violence is depriving children of the most basic healthcare. Water and sanitation services have been compromised, causing waterborne diseases to spread while healthcare and nutritious food are insufficient to meet children's needs.

The enormity of the disaster is reflected in the facts and figures, with Yemen having 9.6 million malnourished children in need, followed by Syria having 5.8 million at risk and Iraq where water supplies are stretched to the limit.

“Violence is crippling health systems in conflict-affected countries and threatens children’s very survival,” said Geert Cappelaere, UNICEF’s director for the Middle East and North Africa.

“Beyond the bombs, bullets and explosions, countless children are dying in silence from diseases that could easily be prevented and treated,” he added. MIMS

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