New footage from inside several hospitals in Yemen reveals the crisis facing the war-torn country as it battles to contain one of the world’s worst ever outbreaks of cholera.
The videos, provided to CNN by the International Rescue Committee, show children being treated for possible symptoms of the infectious disease in hospitals and mobile health units in the city of Aden and other areas in southern Yemen in late August.
A ravaged health care system, devastated infrastructure and near famine — the results of a bloody civil war that began in March 2015 — have all contributed to the spread of what the World Health Organization has described as “the worst cholera outbreak in the world.”
The United Nations has counted 777,229 suspected cases as of October 2, many of them in children. As of September 13, there were 2,074 known deaths from cholera across the country, according to the WHO, with previous reports estimating that 5,000 people were being infected each day.
Sabah Abdullah Salim, whose two-year-old son Mohammed has cholera, sought help from an IRC mobile hospital in Al Buraiqeh.
She told the IRC that her family fled the ongoing violence only to end up in a village without clean water.
“My son was crying and he had diarrhea and he started losing weight so I brought him (to an IRC mobile hospital team),” she said in the video. “This makes me feel sad and stressed, I even cry. I would love to live in a place where there is no war and no illnesses.”
“I hope one day we will be able to eat, walk, drink and live happily in our city and not keep on moving from one city to another and watch our kids suffer from different illnesses.”
Cholera is an acute diarrheal illness that kills tens of thousands of people worldwide each year. Infections are contracted by consuming food or water contaminated with the fecal bacteria Vibrio cholerae.
Last week, the head of the International Committee of the Red Cross’ delegation to Yemen warned that the number of cholera cases there would reach 1 million by the end of 2017.
“The cholera outbreak in Yemen is one of the worst I have ever seen in my 25 years of working in humanitarian aid,” said Zvidzai Maburutse, the deputy director of the IRC’s Yemen program. “What is left of the health system in Yemen today is at best inadequate and at worst non-existent.”
Maburutse, who spoke to CNN from Aden, explained that medicine, medical supplies and materials are in chronically short supply, and well over half of health facilities are only partially functioning or not functioning at all.
“To make matters worse, the local health workers — those who play the largest role in trying to end this outbreak — have not been paid their salaries for nearly 10 months and operational costs in more than 3,500 health facilities are not paid. This cannot continue,” he said.
The conflict has meant that those who are most vulnerable are often impeded from accessing clean water and sanitation facilities, according to Maburutse, who warned that “scores of innocent civilians will continue to die each day if new funding is not forthcoming.”
He said that if the $2.3 billion required to help maintain the UN Yemen Humanitarian Response Plan is not found then the crisis could become far worse.
On Wednesday, the Global Task Force on Cholera Control (GTFCC) — made up of health officials from more than 50 organizations worldwide — launched a new strategy to reduce cholera deaths by 90% by 2030.
According to the task force, cholera kills an estimated 95,000 people and affects 2.9 million more every year and there’s a threat that the epidemic in Yemen could spread to neighboring countries.
While the new approach is likely to be welcomed, the need for action in Yemen is more pressing than ever.
“A lack of access to life-saving basic care will increase the risk of maternal and newborn deaths and communicable disease outbreaks,” Maburutse said.
“It will lead to excessive — and most importantly, avoidable — morbidity and mortality from measles, cholera and diarrhea.
“The longer we wait, the higher the probability that this will spread beyond Yemen’s borders.”