As It Happens

Yemen doctor fighting cholera: 'Please stop the war'

The cholera outbreak in war-torn Yemen may soon become a major epidemic. A front-line doctor tells As It Happens why the world needs to act.
Dr. Mariam Aldogani is healthcare specialist in Yemen with Save the Children. (Mohammed Awadh / Save the Children)

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One thousand new cases — every day. That's what the growing cholera outbreak in Yemen is producing. Most of those affected are under the age of 15.  And according to doctors in the war-torn country it could get a whole lot worse in the coming days and weeks.

Dr. Mariam Aldogani is a health specialist with the charity Save the Children in Yemen's capital, Sana'a.

She tells As It Happens host Carol Off that cholera is spreading quickly in Yemen for a variety of reasons:

Yemeni people are in the eye of the biggest crisis in the world. We just need peace, please.- Dr. Mariam Aldogani

Mariam Aldogani: There is a collapse of the health system. And since last year there's no money to run the health facilities and no salaries for the medical staff. Garbage and a lack of clean water are everywhere. There's more than 14 million people in Yemen with no access to clean water. And in the last month there's been a lot of rain, it's the rainy season. So there's a mix between the garbage and water and it's become contaminated.

Carol Off: Was there an issue with cholera before the war? Did Yemen have this problem or is this entirely created by the war situation in the country?

MA: Actually, before the war I didn't hear of any outbreak of cholera for a very long time. The first outbreak was in October of 2016. And now this is the second outbreak. The war situation has become aggravated. The flow of essential medicines into the country has fallen by seventy percent. And malnutrition in children has increased greatly in Yemen. And people do not have the money or the salary to pay for clean water.

Children displaced by war stand together in camp near Sana'a in Yemen. (Khaled Abdullah / Reuters)

​CO: I've seen pictures that show the incredible pressure on the health-care system in Sana'a. What are you experiencing and seeing?

MA: Oh my God. Last week I went to one of the main public hospitals in Sana'a city you cannot imagine what I saw. I saw a lot of patients lying on the ground. There were six children lying on one bed. And the doctors are struggling to save their lives. One doctor told me that in one day he saw around 180 cases. And the most important thing I saw: the fear in mothers' eyes because they are very worried about their children who are struggling. And these are the people who reach the hospitals. But, you know, in remote areas there's a lot of cases and in most of those cases they are dying there because they cannot make it to the city.

A child in Yemen gets treatment for cholera. (Save the Children)

CO: I heard an interview that you did a few months ago. You were actually giving birth and describing the conditions even before we had this cholera. Is it that much worse than even what you described a few months ago?

MA: It's even worse. And due to the war some areas are closed. There is a delay. Before now some cases could reach the hospital in Sana'a within two hours. It now takes 12 hours to get to the hospital to get what they need. It's terrible. For example, Yemen Save the Children, we have 195 health facilities and more than 55 mobile teams. But all this does not cover the needs. It's not enough.

CO: As I'm sure you know, on the weekend [U.S.] President [Donald]Trump was in Saudi Arabia and he signed a $110-billion arms deal that the Saudis need in order to continue the war that they are leading in Yemen. If you could say something to President Trump about his support and U.S. support for this war, what would you say?

U.S. President Donald Trump in Riyadh with Saudi King Salman, far right, signing $110-billion dollar arms deal. (Jonathan Ernst / Reuters)

MA: We need peace not war. The children and women in Yemen we are not the cause of this war.  We paid the highest cost. Yemen now [sniffles] I'm sorry. You know, Yemeni people now are in the eye of the biggest crisis in the world. We just need peace, please. Enough of people dying in Yemen. Women and children are dying.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. For more, listen to our full conversation with Mariam Aldogani.


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