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Monday, 22 May 2017 - 9:45am

Save the Children staff in Yemen are warning that a deadly cholera outbreak could become a full blown-epidemic, with more than 65,000 cases expected by the end of June at current rates. Yemen is seeing an average of more than 1,000 suspected cases of cholera a day, with nearly two out of three suspected of being children under 15 years.

At least 242 people have already died from the spread of cholera and acute watery diarrhoea (AWD) in the first three weeks of this outbreak. That’s 20 times more than the same period during the first wave in October 2016. The charity is warning the illness is spreading too fast to be brought under control without adequate resources. If the cholera crisis isn’t brought under control by the start of the next rainy season in July, we could see deaths in the thousands rather than hundreds. Children whose bodies have been weakened by malnutrition are the most vulnerable to cholera/AWD and there are 2.2 million malnourished children in Yemen. Already, every ten minutes a child under five dies of preventable causes.

The upsurge comes as the health system, sanitation facilities and civil infrastructure have reached breaking point because of the ongoing war. Sanitation workers in the capital Sanaa are on strike over months of unpaid wages, leading to a pile up of rubbish in the streets, which has now contaminated water supplies after heavy rains caused flooding. And a second rainy season is on the way. Meanwhile, continuing air strikes and artillery have destroyed some sewage pipes. Less than half of all health facilities in Yemen are operational while two-thirds of the population – or 14 million people – have no access to safe drinking water. 

Doctor Zaid at a hospital in Sanaa told Save the Children:

“Last week, we received 2-3 suspected cases per minute. I personally received 180 cases in one day last month. The number of patients in need is shocking. People lay in the corridors, and in some cases we have had to put six children on one bed as there are not enough to go around. We ask the international organisations to scale up their response. We face many challenges in this hospital. We lack medicines and medical supplies. We do not have enough doctors and nurses. We don’t even have a hand-washing place.”

This cholera outbreak is spreading faster than the last one six months ago, when an average of 160 suspected cases were reported daily between 6 October 2016 and 11 January 2017. Humanitarian organisations like Save the Children can bring the situation under control. But the cholera response is massively underfunded and we are running out of time.


Muhsin Siddiquey, Yemen Acting Country Director, Save the Children, says:

“The cholera outbreak is moving beyond the ability of humanitarian agencies like Save the Children to control under the current circumstances, if appropriate measures are not taken. It’s spreading too fast and only 20% of the £17 million needed to stem the outbreak has been pledged so far. Children are dying from an entirely preventable disease right in front of our eyes. Save the Children can turn the situation around by raising public awareness, assisting in running Diarrhoea Treatment Centres, distributing medical supplies and oral rehydration kits. But we need ongoing restrictions on imports of medical supplies to be lifted and funding to come in straight away before it is too late.’


Save the Children is calling for urgent financial support to procure the medicines, staff and hygiene promotion needed to bring this outbreak under control. Parties to the conflict must also ensure unfettered humanitarian access and end restrictions on imports of medicines and other essential supplies – that includes opening commercial airspace in Sanaa airport and ensuring the main Hodeida port can operate at full capacity.


We have spokespeople available in London and Yemen

For more information or to arrange an interview please contact

Bhanu Bhatnagar at b.bhatnagar@savethechildren.org.uk or call

+44 7771 611 274 or +44 7831 650 409 (out of hours)


For free-to-use stills and new b-roll click here



Notes to editors:

·       At least 242 people have died, with thousands of suspected cases since 27 April 2017, across 18 of 22 governorates, including Sana’a, Hajjah, Taiz, Aden, Hodeida and Ibb.

·       Save the Children’s figures are based on projecting the daily average of suspected cases from the World Health Organization, as of 19 May 2017.

·       Sana’a City is the worst affected with more than 4,000 suspected cholera cases

·       The WHO is warning Yemen could see 300,000 cases of cholera in the next six months.

·       More than 23,500 suspected cholera/AWD cases have been reported from 18 governorates, according to the WHO.

·       2.2 million children under five in Yemen are malnourished, making them particularly vulnerable to cholera and AWD.  

·       Cholera is an extremely virulent disease that can cause severe acute watery diarrhoea. It takes between 12 hours and 5 days for a person to show symptoms after ingesting contaminated food or water. Most patients can be easily treated with oral rehydration solution.

·       The current outbreak is more aggressive than the last one when 15,658 suspected cases were reported in the 98 days from 6 October 2016. This is due to several factors including deterioration of water supplies, health facilities and the ongoing conflict. 


Save the Children’s response:

·       Ongoing emergency health and sanitation programmes and capacity to respond in Sana’a, Hajjah, Hodeida and Taiz governorates.

·       One of our partner organisations is treating cholera/AWD at a maternal hospital in Sana’a.

·       We are training health workers and community volunteers to help contain the outbreak.

·       We will assist in establishing and running Diarrhoea Treatment Centres (DTCs).

·       Our teams will chlorinate water sources, provide medicines and medical supplies to clinics, and distribute chlorine and bottles for water collection from community based water sources.

·       We are producing Information Education and Communication (IEC) materials and running waste management and hygiene promotion awareness sessions to help people prevent the spread of the disease.



In the last outbreak in October 2016 the WHO said under-15s accounted for 64% of suspected cases



OCHA http://www.unocha.org/yemen/crisis-overview



OCHA https://www.humanitarianresponse.info/en/node/138772



WHO http://reliefweb.int/report/yemen/yemen-acute-watery-diarrhea-cholera-outbreak-situation-report-2-9-14-may-2017



OCHA https://www.humanitarianresponse.info/en/node/138772