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Emergency response in Yemen: WHO and the Government of Japan's fight against high-threat infectious pathogens

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28 February 2021 – The humanitarian emergency in Yemen has forced the health situation into a critical state. The ongoing conflict in several areas of the country has negatively impacted the functioning of health facilities as medical staff have fled the country or became displaced. Since 2015, health workers have not regularly received their salaries.

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the situation, further complicating the population's access to health care services at a time when the need for health care is critical.

At the same time, several high-threat infectious pathogens continue to be endemic in Yemen, posing public health threats to the population. Data from 2020 show that cholera, dengue, and diphtheria were the top 3 diseases aside from COVID-19, resulting in significant morbidity and mortality among the population.

In March 2020, the World Health Organization and the Government of Japan joined forces to strengthen the emergency response to meet the needs of the most vulnerable populations in Yemen. With the generous US$ 363 636 contribution from the Government of Japan, WHO has been able to implement a comprehensive disease prevention and control programme to combat high-threat infectious pathogens in the country.

Within the project timeframe, WHO provided life-saving medications to the population affected by diphtheria, including internally displaced communities and host communities. A total of 24 309 diphtheria patients and their contacts across Yemen were reached with essential diphtheria medication. Twenty health facilities were supported with diphtheria medication to ensure essential medication for vulnerable people.

After 10 days of treatment at the diphteria treatment centre in As Sabeen Hospital supported by WHO and the Government of Japan, Mohamed is ready to be discharched.

To prevent mosquito-to-human transmission and improve care for dengue patients, WHO supported health authorities in conducting 6 fogging and spraying campaigns in 7 districts in the governorates of Abyan, Shabwa, and Taizz, protecting 814 000 people, including 90 000 internally displaced persons. WHO also facilitated the training of 63 health workers on dengue case management and 60 community leaders on community prevention. The support contributed to a significant reduction in the areas most affected by dengue.

The project also supported a field epidemiology training programme, a 6-month training course for 54 fellows on basic field epidemiology and outbreak investigation. This intensive capacity-building programme strengthened the field epidemiology skills of district surveillance coordinators working in the most outbreak-affected governorates, enabling them to better respond to epidemic-prone diseases.

WHO and the Ministry of Public Health and Population will build on the successes achieved through this project in protecting health security in Yemen. It is envisioned that the field epidemiology training programme's capacity strengthening will be utilized immediately, especially amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The communities that have been empowered to prevent dengue and the health care workers that have learned to provide quality medical care to dengue patients will continue to apply the knowledge and skills they gained through the training provided through this project.

"The generous support from the people of Japan enabled WHO to help health authorities meet the most urgent health needs of people affected by diphtheria, as well as capacity-building needs for public health responders who are working tirelessly in Yemen. On behalf of all people in Yemen, WHO expresses sincere appreciation to the people of Japan for extending their support," said Dr Adham Ismail, WHO representative in Yemen.

The Government of Japan has played a critical role in supporting WHO's humanitarian response in Yemen, donating more than US$ 11.2 million between 2015 and 2019. In July 2020, Japan contributed US$ 3 million to support mental health care across Yemen, where hundreds of thousands have been impacted by psychosocial stressors caused by war, hardship, illness, and family separation.