115 dead as Yemen cholera outbreak spreads: ICRC

A cholera-infected Yemeni man receives treatment at a hospital in Sanaa, Yemen.
A cholera-infected Yemeni man receives treatment at a hospital in Sanaa, Yemen.PHOTO: EPA
Cholera-infected Yemenis receive treatment at a hospital in Sana’a, Yemen.
Cholera-infected Yemenis receive treatment at a hospital in Sana’a, Yemen.PHOTO: EPA

SANAA (AFP) - A cholera outbreak in war-torn Yemen has killed 115 people and left 8,500 ill as hospitals struggle to cope with an influx of patients, the International Committee of the Red Cross said on Sunday (May 14).

"We now are facing a serious outbreak of cholera," said ICRC director of operations Dominik Stillhart at a news conference in the capital Sanaa.

Citing figures compiled by the Yemeni health ministry, Mr Stillhart said 115 people had died of cholera between April 27 and Saturday.

More than 8,500 suspected cases of the waterborne disease were reported in the same period in 14 governorates across Yemen, he said, up from 2,300 cases in 10 governorates last week.

This is the second outbreak of cholera in less than a year in Yemen, the Arab world's poorest country.

Yemen is witnessing a devastating war between the Saudi-supported government and Iranian-backed Houthi rebels, and less than half of the country's health facilities are functioning two years into the conflict.

"The humanitarian situation in Yemen is catastrophic," Mr Stillhart said.

Hospitals were filled beyond capacity with patients displaying symptoms of cholera, a bacterial infection contracted through ingesting contaminated food or water, he said, with "up to four cholera patients in one single bed".

"There are people in the garden, and some even in their cars with the IV drip hanging from the window."

A garbage crisis caused by a 10-day pay strike by rubbish collectors in Sanaa has "contributed to the outbreak," he added.

People walking about in Sanaa have been seen wearing face masks to avoid the stench of rotting refuse that has piled up on the streets of the capital.

Mr Jameel Nashir, Yemen's health chief at the World Health Organisation, said Sanaa residents should follow strict guidelines "like cleaning fruits and vegetables very well".

They should also avoid eating food that has been left uncovered and "use good water from sources that are safe and away from the polluted areas", he told AFP.

The WHO now classifies Yemen as one of the worst humanitarian emergencies in the world alongside Syria, South Sudan, Nigeria and Iraq.

Critical food imports are also at an all-time low as many of the country's Red Sea ports are blockaded.

The United Nations has warned that 17 million people - equivalent to two-thirds of the population - are at imminent risk of famine in Yemen.

More than 8,000 people have been killed since the Saudi-led Arab coalition intervened to support Yemen's government in 2015, according to the WHO.