29/05/2017 11:51 BST | Updated 29/05/2017 11:51 BST

Children In Yemen Need Our Support To Stop The Spread Of Cholera


Um Taha sits with her four children who are suffering from cholera. She has been camping on the floor of the diarrhoea treatment centre in the heart of Sana'a city. (Unicef Yemen/2017/Rajat Madhok)

More than two years of brutal conflict, a looming famine and now life-threatening cholera that is spreading rapidly - right now, nearly ten million children in Yemen are in extreme danger.

Yemen is currently facing a fast-spreading cholera outbreak that is of an unprecedented scale. In the last month, the number of reported cases has nearly doubled since the previous outbreak, and a much more infectious strain seems to be the culprit this time: contaminated water, untreated sewage and uncollected garbage have led to more than 400 associated deaths alone.

Overcrowded cities are helping the disease spread quickly. Amongst a crumbling health system and poor infrastructure, this epidemic is continuing to spread against the backdrop of a major humanitarian crisis, and children continue to bear the biggest brunt.

One out of every hundred people are dying in this most recent outbreak. In just one month there have been 41,866 new cases - of these, 30% are children. The consequences could be catastrophic if the world does not act now.

Malnourished children and people living with other chronic health conditions are now at greater risk of death as they are facing a 'triple threat' of conflict, famine and cholera - this outbreak has come at a time when children really are at their most vulnerable.

Here in the UK, when children get sick and have diarrhoea, it can be worrying but certainly not life-threatening. However, this is far from the reality in Yemen, where mothers and their fatally sick children are filling up health centres desperately seeking treatment in the country's capital, Sana'a.

Much of this outbreak is treatable and preventable. Through DFID, British aid has played and still is playing a huge role in this humanitarian response, with water and hygiene programmes reaching more than 300,000 people in cholera-affected areas already. UK aid is effective in crises like this thanks to the UK having an independent and dedicated department focused on scrutinising the use of every penny and operating within rules that ensure its mission is clear.

The effective delivery of this vital, life-saving aid that children so desperately depend on is unequivocal and must be protected to continue to reach the people who need it the most. In these very weeks, millions of pounds are being given toward the immediate cholera response - British aid is delivering supplies, distributing hygiene kits and establishing centres where children will have access to oral rehydration, which could save their lives.

Having visited Yemen last year I saw the gradual decline in services for children first hand. Many schools were closed, food supply was erratic and most children already didn't have access to a doctor or a hospital. malnutrition levels were startling then. Since that time things have continued to get worse.

Unicef staff are sparing no effort throughout the country, even in the hardest to reach areas - monitoring and treating contaminated water, ensuring children have access to treatment such as oral rehydration salts and health services, as well as continuing to respond to the ongoing needs of children suffering from food insecurity.

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