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WHO plans war on cholera; 700,000 cases in Yemen
September 19, 2017
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GENEVA: The World Health Organisation (WHO) will next month launch a strategy to stop cholera transmission by 2030, it said on Monday, as an unprecedented outbreak in Yemen raced towards 700,000 suspected cases with little sign of slowing down.

In Yemen, the most explosive outbreak on record has caused 686,783 suspected cases and 2,090 deaths since late April. The number of deaths has slowed but the spread of disease has not: in the past week there were 40,000 suspected cases, the most for seven weeks.

Dominique Legros, the agency’s cholera specialist, said it was impossible to predict how any outbreak would evolve, but Yemen’s was likely to continue for a long time. The low death rate suggested the outbreak was not severe, although there may be many uncounted deaths in the community. The number of suspected cases in Yemen cannot be checked accurately, and many may be acute watery diarrhoea, which has similar symptoms and treatment but is not caused by the cholera bacterium, which is spread by contaminated food and water.

The WHO on Monday urged Yemen to approve cholera vaccinations it has offered to help contain an epidemic that could affect nearly a million people by year’s end.

Yemen, where a multinational conflict has caused a humanitarian crisis, had asked the UN health agency earlier this year for doses of the vaccine, said Legros.

The WHO sent a million doses in June only to see the Yemeni government change its mind, leading the United Nations to reassign the vaccines to Somalia and Sudan, Legros told reporters in Geneva.

Asked about Yemen’s reversal, Legros said only that discussions with countries about vaccinations could be “complicated”, noting the lack of familiarity with them in affected communities, especially in the case of newer vaccines like the one for cholera.

“We are still in negotiation with the government in Yemen to make sure we can also use (vaccines) to help control” the outbreak, he said.

The WHO is also trying to keep the lid on a flare-up in Nigeria while tackling many entrenched outbreaks in Africa and an epidemic in Haiti, where almost 10,000 people have died since 2010.

“Once it’s out of the box, once it has spread, it’s very, very difficult to contain and we have a huge number of cases and deaths,” said Dominique Legros, the cholera focal point at WHO’s department for pandemic and epidemic diseases.

Reuters
 

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