“To Treat or to Feed?” The Difficult Question Facing Families in Yemen

By CARE Australia July 11, 2017 0 comments

In a crowded corridor turned cholera isolation unit, doctors move from one bed to the next, nurses hurdling frantically around them, hoping that no more cases come in this afternoon.  It has been an overwhelming few weeks and the pressure does not seem to cease.  But amidst the outdated monitors, rows of rehydration drips, moans and groans, are the wrinkled eyes of children, men, women and elderly people waiting desperately for some form of relief.

55-year-old Ahmad Ali was brought to the Aljomhuri Hospital in Hajja city by his son.  He had lost consciousness after 5 days of struggling with a cholera infection. “I was unable to afford the cost of traveling from my home to the city and to pay the hospital fees.” Ali explains between breaths. “My sons are jobless and I am the only one with an income source.” Ali had tried to fight the disease by preparing a rehydration solution at home in order to avoid any extra expenses that a hospital might charge.  But he got worse, and had to be brought to the hospital for his life to be saved.

Already gripped by one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises, Yemen is today facing an acute and fast spreading cholera outbreak with numbers of those infected now surpassing 300,000. The lack of a functioning health system and limited access to safe water and hygiene posses a threat to effectively controlling the spread of the disease.

Like millions of others, poverty is what stopped Ali from going to the hospital when he started experiencing cholera symptoms.  He was forced to make the difficult choice between spending his daily wage – barely enough to feed his family – on food or to see a doctor.  And as a result, he suffered further infection on his kidney.

Following nearly three years of escalated conflict, more than half of all health facilities in Yemen are closed or partially functioning.  The few that exist need all resources, including from patients in order to remain running.  Most of the staff are volunteers now, having not received consistent salary payments over the last 8 months. Hajja governorate has reported some of the highest numbers of suspected cholera cases with close to 20,000 reported since April

“This cholera outbreak is a symptom of a complex, multifaceted crisis that requires solutions beyond treating and preventing infections.” says Wael Ibrahim, the Country Director, CARE International in Yemen.  But as the race to defeat the disease continues, a need to highlight the dire underlying needs that millions of Yemenis continue to face should not be undermined.  “More needs to be done to support and strengthen systems necessary to effectively respond,” concludes Wael.

Click here to read more about CARE’s work in Yemen.

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