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People in the streets of Ibb, Yemen. Photo: Claudiovidri

The deadly diarrhoeal disease cholera has re-emerged in Yemen in the last month. Lacking proper medical care and resources, the country has reported more than 32,000 suspected cases and hundreds of deaths since April 27.

This is a significant spike compared to figures released by the WHO just last Friday, when there were nearly 23,500 suspected cases. Officials believe the situation will only get worse, and cases could rise to 300,000 in the next six months.

Yemen, which has been facing civil war and economic unrest for the last two years, first endured a cholera outbreak from October 2016 to January 2017. Though cases declined by January, the outbreak was never fully brought under control. Now scientists fear that a new, potentially more deadly strain is causing the latest surge in cases.

Samples have been sent to specialist labs in France in hopes of identifying the new strain.

Cholera is caused by ingesting the vibrio cholera bacterium, usually through contaminated food or water. Yemen’s fractured infrastructure has left the majority of the population malnourished, and in need of clean water.

Yemen’s total population is about 27 million, but nearly 19 million are in need of humanitarian aid because of the ongoing conflict, according to UN statistics.

Medical professionals are overwhelmed by the amount of new cases coming in on a daily basis, and lack of supplies and resources is escalating the outbreak. Less than half of the country’s health facilities are considered fully functional.

According to the WHO, the weather is also contributing the rapid spread of the disease. Cholera is more likely to spread in warmer temperatures, and recent heavy rains have left water sources contaminated with uncollected waste.

In the majority of patients, cholera doesn’t exhibit any symptoms, but stays in feces for one to two weeks, which can cause others to become infected.

Cholera can be easily treated if intravenous fluids are administered quickly, but medical centers are running out of supply. When left untreated, cholera can kill within a matter of hours. Many victims have been children under the age of 14.

“We are very concerned with the re-emergence of cholera across several areas of Yemen in the past couple of weeks. Efforts must be scaled-up now to contain the outbreak and avoid a dramatic increase in cases of diarrhoeal disease,” said Nevio Zagaria, WHO Representative in Yemen, in a May 11 release.

The WHO has established 10 new treatment centers in affected areas since the latest outbreak began.

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