Yemen risks new cholera outbreak as rainy season begins

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War-torn Yemen, caught in what the UN terms the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, risks a resurgence of cholera that could infect millions as the rainy season advances, researchers warned Friday.

Health authorities should “immediately” boost measures to mitigate risk, an international team urged in The Lancet Global Health.

These could include vaccination, distributing equipment for filtering and disinfecting water, and repairing crumbling sanitation infrastructure.

Based on data from previous outbreaks, the team calculated that 54 percent of districts in Yemen could be affected by an epidemic flare-up in 2018, “totaling a population at risk of more than 13.8 million.”

“We thus make an urgent call for action on the part of local officials, donors, and international partners, to mitigate the risk of a new cholera epidemic wave in Yemen, which would certainly further weaken a highly vulnerable population.”

For the study, researchers looked for evidence of a link between cholera and rainfall in research published between 1970 and 2018. They also examined the history of cholera outbreaks in Yemen from 1971.

The data showed an association between higher rainfall and cholera prevalence, they said.

Yemen is in the grip of a cholera outbreak that started in 2016 after a five-year lull.

Striking in two main waves -- in 2016 and in 2017 -- it has been the largest documented cholera epidemic of modern times, with over 1.1 million people infected and more than 2,300 deaths.

This meant the return of the rainy season in 2018 could unleash a devastating third wave, said the researchers.

Speculating on the reason for rainfall link, the team said conflict reduces access to safe water drawn from deep underground. When it rains, people will rely on surface waters, possibly contaminated by war-damaged wastewater systems.

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