What disturbs Stanford pediatrician Paul Wise, MD, most about the cholera epidemic in Yemen is that it’s hitting children hardest and is completely preventable.
Since 2016, two severe cholera outbreaks have impacted more than 1.2 million people. Children account for 30 percent of the infections; more than 2,500 people have died.
“Children in Yemen are not only the most vulnerable to this ongoing cholera epidemic but they are also suffering from a disastrous famine,” Wise told me in an interview for Stanford Health Policy. He is a core faculty member at the Department of Pediatrics, Stanford Health Policy and the Center on Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law.
“The cholera and starvation that is currently afflicting Yemen’s children are completely manmade and preventable,” he added. “They are the product of a brutal, protracted war and the ongoing complacency of the international community.”
The four-year civil war in Yemen has killed hundreds of thousands of people and has led the poorest of the Arab nations to the brink of famine. Some 22 million of the country’s 29 million people are in desperate need of humanitarian assistance, according to the United Nations.
The U.S. Senate recently voted to withdraw military aid from a Saudi-led coalition that is supporting the internationally recognized government. The Senate vote on Dec. 13 is largely symbolic for now, since the House has said it would block any attempt to take up a similar vote before the winter recess.
The national debate has raised public awareness about the U.S.'s role in the conflict, Wise said.
Wise, who leads Stanford’s Children in Crisis project, joined colleagues at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health to study the preparedness and response to the cholera epidemic, at the request U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).
Their report was issued earlier this month.
“The report is an attempt to bring together technical and political analysis in a way that calls attention to both the profound suffering of civilian communities caught up in war — and that real opportunities exist to better protect these communities through urgent global action,” Wise said.
If caught early, cholera can be treated with oral hydration salts, though more severe cases require intravenous fluids and antibiotics. But the bacterium found in food and water sources has overwhelmed Yemen because its health care facilities and infrastructure have been devastated.
“What is critical to remember is that these cases and deaths are all preventable,” said Wise. “And children are always the most vulnerable to the indirect effects of war, the effects resulting from the destruction of the essentials of life, like food, water, shelter, and health care.”
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