Another grim milestone for Yemen: Cholera infections jump to half a million

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The number of suspected cholera cases in Yemen this year hit 500,000 on Sunday, marking a grim milestone in the spread of the disease across this war-ravaged country. Almost 2,000 people have died since April, when the virus’ spread began to accelerate, according to the World Health Organization.

Although spread of the deadly waterborne virus, which started last fall, has slowed in some areas, newly affected districts are recording large numbers of cases and that has helped push the infection rate to an estimated 5,000 people a day, the WHO reported.

Last month, the international health agency announced that it was suspending plans to deliver doses of oral cholera vaccine to Yemen due to security, access and logistical challenges. Officials said they would focus on ensuring people could gain access to clean water and on educating people about how to keep their families safe and how to get treatment if needed.

Two years of conflict between pro-government forces and Shiite Muslim Houthi rebels have laid the groundwork for unhealthy conditions, according to humanitarian aid workers. The United States has been criticized for selling arms to Saudi Arabia, which leads an Arabian military coalition in support of Yemen’s government and has been accused of killing civilians in indiscriminate bombings.

Deteriorating hygiene and sanitation conditions, disruptions to the water supply, shortages in medicine, supplies and doctors, and the general collapse of Yemen’s health system have contributed to the country’s cholera epidemic, now the largest in the world, WHO officials said.

The organization said it was continuing to work with partners to “set up cholera treatment clinics, rehabilitate health facilities, deliver medical supplies and support the national health response effort.” Given access to health care, most of the sick are able to survive, the WHO said.

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