Cholera Crisis in Yemen Prompts PQMD Member Unicef to Take Unique Step

A cholera crisis that began in April in Yemen has claimed 1,000 lives, many of them women and children. Over 130,000 cholera cases have been reported with expectations of that number rising 300,000. Cholera is a bacterial disease spread by contaminated water and can potentially cause fatal dehydration.

Yemenis received treatment for cholera at a hospital in Sana, the capital, on Wednesday. Half of the country’s health facilities have been destroyed or closed because of the civil war. Credit Yahya Arhab/European Pressphoto Agency

Yemen’s civil war, which began in March 2015, has destroyed or closed half of the country’s health facilities. In addition to the cholera outbreak, Yemen also faces famine and an increase of severely malnourished children. In such desperate circumstances, Unicef is taking an unusual step to stop the cholera crisis.

Unicef recognized the critical role Yemen’s health care workers play in the fight against cholera. The war disrupted the health care workers’ regular salaries, and many had not been paid in months. Unicef began paying the country’s doctors and nurses about one month ago. Health care workers receive about 70 percent of their usual pay, which Unicef staff describe as daily stipends. The money is being borrowed from an emergency fund.

The uncommon practice is not one Unicef regional director Geert Cappalaere would like to see sustained. It is necessary, Mr. Cappalaere said, because “We’re not going to let kids die.”

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