Driving back cholera in the remote regions of Yemen


A savage war has been raging across Yemen for more than two years; much of the country’s infrastructure has been destroyed; and almost 15 million people do not have access to basic healthcare. The country is now gripped by the worst cholera epidemic ever recorded. More than 2,000 people have died since late April from the highly contagious bacterial infection, which can kill within hours if left untreated. There are more than half a million suspected cases of cholera in Yemen and on average 5,000 new cases are recorded a day.

To reach Al-Maswah health facility takes four hours along rough, winding mountain roads from the regional capital, Hajjah City. It’s a slow journey by 4x4 along rocky terrain, past bridges destroyed in air-strikes, and tiny villages eking a living out of terraced farms that cling to the steep mountainsides. For the people living in this remote area of Hajjah governorate, the distance can be insurmountable – and deadly. There is no public transport out here and few people have access to a vehicle, meaning walking is often the only method of transportation.

In this context, when deadly diseases spread through the countryside, people simply cannot get help in time. Now in the devastating grip of the worst cholera epidemic in modern history, the rural people of Ash Shagadira district are desperate for even the most basic medical care and resources. With emergency funding from the Yemen Humanitarian Fund (YHF), Relief International (RI) was able to quickly respond and establish an emergency cholera treatment center in Al-Maswah health facility to treat people suffering from de-hydration and raise awareness in the surrounding communities on how to stop the spread of cholera. We are the only humanitarian actor operating in this area and we’re saving the lives of more than 100 people every day.

Jamal* is 42 years old and lives in a nearby village. He told me he had vomiting and acute watery diarrhea this morning and he came straight to Al-Maswah health facility to get help. When he arrived he was severely dehydrated because he’d lost so much fluid. He told us he learned about cholera just two days ago from awareness raising sessions conducted by our local partner, All Girls Foundation for Development (AGFD), in his village.
In the bed next to Jamal, three-year-old Noora* is sleeping uneasily in the heat. Her young uncle, Abdulkareem*, carried her for over an hour to get here when she suddenly developed vomiting and diarrhea. The onset of cholera symptoms are very rapid and if not acted upon immediately, people can die within hours – especially children.
Abdulkareem tells us he’d never heard of cholera before a few weeks ago and he was not really sure what causes it. “We just knew that other people had already died from this disease and I needed to get her to the health facility fast! I’m very happy to see that she’s receiving good treatment here and the nurse said she will be fine.”