UNICEF and the WHO estimate that over 5,000 new cases of cholera are being diagnosed every day in Yemen. The effect this has had on an already dilapidated health system is harrowing, to say the least.
What is cholera?
Cholera is a diarrhoeal disease caused by a bacterium known as Vibrio Cholerae. First reports of the disease have been found as early as the 4th Century in Sanskrit scripts. The name cholera refers to “bile” in Greek.
The disease is spread via contaminated water and, in rare cases, through seafood. The propensity for disease increases in states of poor sanitation and undernourishment.
Why has this happened in Yemen?
Both UNICEF and the WHO blame the last two years of war in the country for the outbreak.
The consequences of this war have been a failing health system, limitations on water supply, poor sanitation, increased rates of malnutrition and job losses for up to 10,000 health workers. All this in combination leads to perfect conditions for the spread of a cholera epidemic.
What can be done to stop the disease from spreading?
The joint letter from UNICEF and the WHO calls for an end to the war which would ultimately end the problem. However, it would take years to rebuild the infrastructure required for a fully functional health system. In the meantime, rapid response teams are going from house to house in every region of the country to limit the spread of disease. This is achieved through education about sanitation as well as the storage of clean water.
Medical Education: Terms of epidemiology
The cholera outbreak in Yemen can be described as an epidemic (Greek for “above the people”) as the disease has spread rapidly to a large number of people within a short space of time. This has occurred because of the many changes in the local environment described in the article above. If the outbreak spreads beyond that locality it would be described as a pandemic.
A disease is described as endemic (Greek for “within the people”) when it is at a steady state and there are no external factors aiding the spread the disease. This term best describes the state of the varicella zoster virus, for example, which causes chickenpox.
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Any opinions above are the author’s alone and may not represent those of his/her affiliations. Any comment is based on the best available evidence at the time of writing. All data is based on externally validated studies unless expressed otherwise. Novel data is representative of the sample surveyed. An online recommendation is no substitute for seeing your own doctor and should not be taken as medical advice. Article edited for publication by Dr Hannah Arnstein
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Sources and Further Reading
- https://www.unicef.org.uk/ UN programme directed at providing humanitarian aid to children.
- http://www.who.int/en/ UN organisation focused on public health
- http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/cholera/Pages/definition.aspx NHS webpage on cholera
- http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-14704852 BBC country profile on Yemen
- https://www.cdc.gov/cholera/index.html Centre for Disease Control and Prevention webpage on cholera
- http://www.omniglot.com/writing/sanskrit.htm Webpage on Sanskrit
- http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/africaandindianocean/12149887/World-hunger-What-are-the-most-undernourished-countries.html Telegraph article on undernourishment around the world
- http://www.who.int/topics/health_systems/en/ WHO webpage on health systems
- http://www.who.int/topics/sanitation/en/ WHO webpage on sanitation
- http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/Malnutrition/Pages/Introduction.aspx NHS webpage of malnutrition
- http://reliefweb.int/report/yemen/statement-unicef-executive-director-anthony-lake-and-who-director-general-margaret-chan official statement from UNICEF and the WHO on the cholera epidemic in Yemen
- http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/historic_figures/snow_john.shtml BBC webpage on epidemiologist, John Snow
- http://www.bmj.com/about-bmj/resources-readers/publications/epidemiology-uninitiated/1-what-epidemiology BMJ article on epidemiology
- http://www.webmd.com/cold-and-flu/what-are-epidemics-pandemics-outbreaks#1 WebMD webpage describing epidemiological terms
- http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/1132465-overview Medscape article on chickenpox and the varicella zoster virus.