Cholera Threatens Children and Families in Yemen

Cholera is rampaging though Yemen, claiming more than 4,000 victims each day and threatening to increase those numbers as the hot summer begins.

The acute diarrheal disease can quickly kill those who are weak or malnourished, making it a grave threat in this county on the brink of famine. Relief International has been treating malnutrition in Yemen for more than five years and is racing to address the cholera outbreak. RI has established eight rehydration points since cholera spiked in late April and will soon launch 52 more. RI has treated over 4,000 suspected cases. Working in rural areas and the hardest-to-reach districts, RI is the only service provider in the areas it serves.

Every hour, cholera claims a life in Yemen


“These places are difficult to reach, there’s rocky terrain,” says Sherine Zaghow, RI’s regional director for the Middle East. “It’s spreading very quickly in the rural cities where the water is contaminated.”  

Cholera is caused by water or food contaminated by fecal matter or other bacteria. In just a few short weeks, the disease has spread to 20 of Yemen’s 21 governorates, sickening over 140,000 people and killing nearly 1,000. The source of the outbreak remains unknown. Rising temperatures have helped the bacteria flourish and heavy rains have washed mounds of waste into the nation’s water sources.  Two-thirds of Yemen’s population — around 16 million people — does not have access to safe drinking water. As summer approaches and temperatures routinely climb past 40C/100F each day, the disease is poised to rip quickly through communities.

RI is helping communities in Yemen end cholera

Working through three mobile medical teams and five fixed health clinics in the northern governorates of Hajjah, Amran and Sana’a, Relief International staff have trained nearly 100 nurses, healthcare providers and community health workers in cholera awareness, prevention and treatment. At the request of UNICEF and the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, RI will create 52 new oral rehydration points and eight new diarrhea treatment centers in coming weeks. Relief International has increased malnutrition screenings and has engaged its extensive network of local community health workers to diagnose and treat dehydration, and to refer patients to hospitals when necessary.

RI is also testing and treating contaminated water sources and is distributing individual water sterilization and sanitization kits to families. Expert staff track and map cholera cases to identify critical sources of the outbreaks.