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COVID Situation May Be "Concealing" Underlying Cholera Crisis In Yemen

Sana'a, Yemen

Thousands of people in war-torn Yemen could be dying from undetected cases of cholera because COVID-19 has overwhelmed the country’s health facilities and people are too frightened to seek treatment for fear of the virus, aid agency Oxfam has warned.

The number of COVID-19 cases in Yemen is likely to peak in the coming weeks while the heaviest rains are expected in August which could deepen a hidden cholera crisis.

The numbers of recorded suspected cholera cases since March have shown an abnormal decrease. In the first three months of 2020, there were more than 100,000 suspected cases of cholera in Yemen but this dropped by 50 percent in the second three months. Last year, the numbers increased by 70 percent in the second quarter because it coincides with the start of rainy season.

This means it’s likely there are already tens of thousands of people suffering with undetected and untreated cases of cholera.

The first case of the Coronavirus was reported in the country in April and although officially only 1,644 cases had been recorded by July 22nd, the actual figure is likely to be far higher because of underreporting and a lack of testing facilities. The UK’s Department for International Development has estimated it could already be as high as one million.

Muhsin Siddiquey, Oxfam’s Yemen Country Director said: “Yemen is on course for a truly horrific catastrophe as both cholera and COVID could peak in the coming weeks. Yemenis desperately need an end to the fighting which has destroyed health facilities and left communities more vulnerable to the virus…Rather than show that Yemen has cholera and COVID-19 under control, the low official numbers demonstrate the exact opposite. A lack of working health facilities and people too scared to get treatment mean that the numbers suffering from these diseases are being vastly under recorded”.

Also on 27 July, Abdi Ismail, the International Committee of the Red Cross’s head of mission in Aden, said that “The combination of coronavirus, conflict and heavy rains this year is hurting millions of Yemenis across the country, who are already reeling from years of conflict”.

Sana’a City and most parts of Sana’a governorate were badly hit by flooding, and at least 64,000 people were affected when torrential rains destroyed houses and left some roads impassable in Raymah province, Marib City and surrounding areas. More than 5,130 families were affected in the northern Hajjah province.

In the southern governorates, almost 33,000 people living in displacement camps lost their tents and belongings in flash flood. Of the 4,700 households affected, 1,812 were in Aden, 1,037 in Abyan, 917 in Taiz and 770 in Lahj governorates.

Heavy rain and flooding have also increased the spread of seasonal and waterborne diseases like cholera, dengue fever and malaria, which continue to claim dozens of lives in the country.

Mark Lowcock, Under-Secretary for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief, Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), in a 28 July Briefing to the UN Security Council on Yemen, said that the country’s humanitarian crisis “has never been worse…Famine is again on the horizon. Conflict is again escalating. The economy is again in tatters. Humanitarian agencies are again nearly broke”.

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