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Public health crisis looms in Yemen

 
 
 
 
 
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Dengue Fever has broken out in Yemen, a country already severely affected by civil strife and the ensuing interruptions in supply routes, safe passage to hospitals, healthcare centers and doctors’ surgeries. Thousands of people are affected by the mosquito-borne virus in a country whose healthcare system is on the verge of collapse.

Dengue Fever

Dengue Fever is a severe illness which has no specific treatment. Healthcare is centred around early detection, nursing and support for the victim, translated into fatality rates of around one per cent. But there is concern, and this is not unfounded: exposure to one strain, or serotype of the four in existence, usually results in flu-like symptoms for a week and immunity against the same serotype in future.

However, there is a tendency for exposure to a different serotype at a future date resulting in severe dengue, or hemorrhagic fever. This strain has Ebola-like symptoms and causes 500,000 victims a year.

Worse, there is another school of thought which states that an imperfect vaccination program can make severe Dengue fever more virulent. Given the results of the first vaccination program in Thailand, we can see the causes for concern: Serotype 1 saw infection rates cut by 55.6%; Serotype 3 saw infection rates cut by 75.3%, Serotype 4 saw infection rates cut by 100%.

Serotype 2: near zero protection. And serotype #2 is the most prevalent in the world.

Yemen: Serious situation

As the World Health Organization reports some 3,000 cases of Dengue Fever in Yemen to the United Nations Organizations Headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, some Non-Governmental Organizations have reported up to 6,000 cases. This is a particularly serious development in a country whose healthcare system was reported by the WHO days ago “to be on the verge of breakdown”.

The civil strife in recent months has caused significant damage to infrastructures as warring factions tried to take control of or to retain the capital and air strikes by Saudi Arabia and its allies in the Middle East destroyed civilian structures with military hardware. According to the WHO, “Hospitals have been destroyed, health workers killed and critical shortages of food, medical supplies and fuel are causing large-scale suffering, and it is only thanks to the heroic efforts of the country’s health workers, the resilience of its brave people and the tireless efforts of national and international humanitarian organizations that any semblance of health care is being provided”.

Treatment kits and essential medicines have been delivered for around 450,000 people, including medicines for the Dengue Fever outbreak which strikes the region every year between April and October, but which this year has seen an increase in cases, partly due to the conflict, with local authorities unable to perform clean-up or disinfection operations in areas with stagnant water.

Access to healthcare facilities has decreased by 50 per cent since the conflict began earlier this year.

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