SANAA, Yemen (AP) — Cholera is surging once again in Yemen, with the U.N. reporting that the number of suspected cases has doubled in March over previous months and doctors in overwhelmed health facilities fearing it could rival a 2017 outbreak that spiraled into the world’s worst flare-up.
The surge underscores how Yemen, which has endured multiple outbreaks of cholera amid four years of civil war, still isn’t able to stop its spread.
At al-Sabeen Hospital in the capital of Sanaa, beds are full and patients sleep in tents in a courtyard. Some of them wait for treatment by lying on cardboard under trees, with IVs dangling from the branches.
“We receive cases around the clock. Sometimes three to four cases a minute,” said Dr. Ismail al-Mansouri. Even the doctors are not immune: Al-Mansouri and several other staff have caught cholera. On March 28, one of their colleagues, a well-loved pediatrician, died of the disease.
Two other outbreaks since 2016 caused more than 1.4 million suspected cases and killed more than 3,000 people. Most of those stemmed from an outbreak that began in April 2017 and grew into the world’s biggest.
The spread has slowed since late 2018, although it never stopped. Now, seasonal rains that began earlier than usual this year have caused a spike in the disease.
Cholera is spread primarily by water and food tainted with feces. It usually can be treated if caught early, but it can kill swiftly by dehydrating its victims through vomiting and severe diarrhea. The destruction wreaked by Yemen’s civil war has created prime conditions for cholera’s spread. The conflict is between Shiite rebels known as Houthis who control the northern part of the country and a Saudi-led coalition backing the internationally recognized government, based in the south.