One-year-old Fatima weighs 4.2kg. Her mother brought her to Al Sabeen Hospital when she became unwell and developed a fever. Photo: Nuha Mohammed/NRC

Facing cholera and malnutrition

NRC|Published 23. Aug 2017
One in four Yemenis don’t have enough food and the number of suspected cholera cases climbs beyond half a million. More lives are now at risk in Yemen than anywhere else on the planet.

Mohammed’s family travelled by road for 15 hours to reach Al Sabeen Hospital.

“We had no choice,” explained Mohammed’s father. “There are no functioning facilities in our area now. There is nothing.”

At two years of age, Mohammed weighs 5.9kg and cannot sit unassisted.

He is among 1.8 million children in Yemen expected to suffer from acute malnutrition this year. Without access to food and medicine, many are at imminent risk of death.

Mohammed is two years old, but weighs only 5.9kg. He is one of 1.8 million children expected to suffer from malnutrition this year. Photo: Nuha Mohammed/NRC

Devastated infrastructure and lengthy bureaucratic processes make it difficult for humanitarian agencies to move supplies and personnel into and across Yemen.

“Yemen is on the brink of becoming a failed state,” wrote Jan Egeland, Secretary General of the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), calling for immediate action through an open letter to UN Secretary-General António Guterres, the members of the United Nations Security Council and the EU.

A burgeoning cholera epidemic

Medical staff are monitoring two-year-old Mazen to determine whether he will need intravenous fluids. His mother had seen her cousin become sick with cholera, so she knew to bring her son to hospital as soon as he showed symptoms. Thanks to a kind stranger who gave them money for transport, they arrived in time.

The hospital has treated approximately 17,000 women and children for suspected cases of cholera since late April.

“In May, when I visited Yemen, there were 2,000 suspected cases of cholera,” said Egeland. “Today, reports indicate more than half a million cases.”

Jan Egeland visiting Al Sabeen Hospital in May 2017. Today the hospital face even more pressure as the number of suspected cholera cases is rising. Photo: Tuva Raanes Bogsnes/NRC

Working around the clock, unpaid

Dr. Adel Alalmani, the Director of the Cholera Centre at Al Sabeen Hospital, explains that pressures on medical staff has been immense since cholera took hold in late April.

“Every day starting at 8am. Every day finishing at midnight,” he says. “Every, every day.”

His colleagues also speak of increasingly difficult conditions. The gravity of the cases – like malnutrition – and the shortage of medicine make every day a bit harder.

Every day starting at 8am. Every day finishing at midnight.
Dr. Adel Alalmani, the Director of the Cholera Centre at Al Sabeen Hospital

Approximately 1.2 million civil servants in Yemen have not received salaries, or received them only intermittently, since August 2016. One of the doctors at Al Sabeen Hostpital sold her jewellery to afford her commute to and from work.

She simply says: “This is our vocation and we love it.” 

Dr. Adel Alalmani work at the Al Sabeen Hospital from 8am to midnight, every day. Photo: Nuha Mohammed/NRC