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Cholera Compounds Suffering in a Yemen Torn by War

The World Health Organization, the public health arm of the United Nations, reported 2,022 suspected cases of cholera and acute watery diarrhea in Yemen from April 27 to this past Sunday, including at least 34 deaths.

Cholera has long been an underlying risk in Yemen, but it subsided during the cold winter months this year. With the sudden spike of cases, health officials are fearing the worst.

“We are facing a reactivation of the cholera epidemic,” Dr. Nevio Zagaria, the World Health Organization’s representative in Yemen, was quoted by Reuters as saying.

The outbreak has affected Sana, the capital, where news agencies have reported on piles of garbage and clogged sewage drains related to a strike by sanitation workers exasperated over weeks of unpaid wages.

Spread by feces in contaminated water, cholera can cause severe vomiting and diarrhea, and it can lead to fatal dehydration within hours if untreated with fluids and antibiotics.

The danger of a cholera epidemic in Yemen, the Arab world’s poorest country, has been greatly amplified by what amounts to a collapse in the public health system because of the two-year-old war between Houthi insurgents and the government, which is backed by Saudi Arabia.

Since the war began in March 2015, many hospitals, which have been damaged by airstrikes and other attacks, have closed, essentially denying medical access to vast portions of the country.

The outbreak only further compounds the acute deprivations in Yemen, where roughly 17 million people — about two-thirds of the population — are facing severe hunger and possible famine. An estimated two million Yemeni children under the age of 5 are considered acutely malnourished.

The International Rescue Committee, an aid group that responds to the most urgent disasters, has called Yemen “the largest humanitarian crisis in the world.”

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