Yemen’s children face ‘worst diphtheria outbreak’

International aid organisation says deaths in Yemen likely to rise as bacterial disease spreads.

Nahla Arishi, a pediatrician, checks a boy infected with diphtheria at the al-Sadaqa teaching hospital in the southern port city of Aden
A pediatrician checks a boy infected with diphtheria in Yemen's southern port city of Aden in December, 2017 [File: Fawaz Salman/Reuters]

Deaths caused by diphtheria, a serious bacterial infection, are “likely to rise” in Yemen if a blockade imposed by a Saudi-led military coalition is not lifted, a major international charity has warned.

Save the Children said in a statement on Sunday that minors in the war-torn country were the most affected in what it called “the worst diphtheria outbreak for a generation”.

Diphtheria is a contagious infection that targets the body’s respiratory system. Though preventable by vaccines, it can lead to breathing problems, heart failure and death.


Since August, the aid organisation said it recorded at least 52 deaths from the disease, the majority of which were children under the age of 15.

Some 716 others were infected during the same time period.

“There’s so little help right now that families are carrying their children for hundreds of miles to get to us,” Mariam Aldogani, the group’s field coordinator in the port city of Hudaida, said.

“But they’re arriving too late and infecting people on the way.”

According to Save the Children, the outbreak has hit the western provinces of Ibb and Hudaida the hardest.

Apart from severe food and fuel shortages, Yemen’s population is already facing an ongoing widespread cholera epidemic, described as the world’s worst, and an outbreak of acute watery diarrhoea.

The United Nations has said that spread of disease is “man-made”, referring to the war between Houthi rebels and the Saudi-led coalition that is fighting them.

Yemen has been torn apart by conflict since 2014, when Houthi rebels, allied with troops loyal to the late President Ali Abdullah Saleh, captured large expanses of the country, including the capital, Sanaa.


Saudi Arabia launched a massive aerial campaign against the rebels in March 2015, aimed at restoring the government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.

The Saudi-led coalition closed air, land and sea access to the Arabian peninsula country for all humanitarian workers and organisations on November 6, saying the blockade would stop arms from reaching Houthi rebels.

The blockade was eased weeks later, but many warned that the move did not go far enough, including aid and human rights groups who warned that the spectre of mass famine would continue to loom over the impoverished country

The UN says that more than 10,000 people have been killed in the conflict, which has also displaced more than three million.

Source: Al Jazeera