HotSpots H2O: Dengue, Cholera Remain Concerns in Yemen’s Conflict Zone

Yemen. Photo courtesy of Flickr.

After a lull, conflict in Yemen is flaring again. The uptick in fighting is complicating attempts by health workers to stem the spread of infectious, waterborne diseases like dengue fever and cholera that have multiplied during years of civil war.  

In mid-January, skirmishes broke out along the front lines in al-Jawf, Nihm, and Marib, areas in western Yemen that had previously been at a stalemate. 

An airstrike on January 18 rocked a military camp in Marib governorate, killing more than 100 soldiers in one of the war’s deadliest incidents so far. Martin Griffiths, the United Nations special envoy, said the attack followed one of the quietest months since fighting broke out in 2015. 

The escalating violence is exacerbating ongoing disease outbreaks, including dengue fever and cholera. 

“Dengue has been spreading fast,” said Walid Yahya Mansour, a resident of Hodeidah, one of Yemen’s key port cities. The World Health Organization says that 76,768 suspected cases of dengue were recorded in Yemen in 2019, including 271 deaths. 

Aid workers in Hodeidah are rushing to fill pools of stagnant rainwater, which provide the breeding grounds for mosquitoes that carry dengue. Authorities have also cautioned communities against using open containers to gather rainwater for drinking, a common practice in some parts of the city. 

Fighting is hampering humanitarian response to the outbreak, however, with front lines becoming increasingly difficult to access. The collapse of Yemen’s health and sanitation services is also leaving the population vulnerable to disease. 

In addition to dengue, cholera continues to fester across the country. The World Health Organization reports that between January 2018 and December 2019, a total of 1,189,757 suspected cases were reported. The waterborne disease has reportedly reached 22 of the country’s 23 governorates. 

Officials fear that the number of infectious diseases could continue to rise, especially if fighting spreads to other parts of the country.

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