Robert Mardini, head of the ICRC’s delegation at the UN, said on Monday the poorest nation in the Arab world was facing “a very dire humanitarian situation”, amid an escalation in dengue cases, tens of thousands of cholera cases as well as a flare-up of malaria.
“We have been recently extremely worried and concerned by reports of dengue outbreak in addition to cholera,” Mardini said.
In Hodeidah, where the country’s main port is located, 50 people died in late October and early November of dengue fever and malaria, the ICRC was told. The local head office reported the number of people infected with dengue fever was 2,000 and close to 3,000 had malaria.
“So you can imagine, with the violence and the fighting, it is a big challenge to control this epidemic,” Mardini said.
The European Commission’s humanitarian aid operation known as ECHO said 7,970 cases of dengue fever were reported in Taiz, Yemen’s third-largest city, adding that 3,215 were confirmed and 103 patients were under observation in government hospitals.
Also, Mardini said, last year’s “spectacular” cholera epidemic in Yemen was not yet over, pointing to more than 56,000 cases reported between January and September.
Dengue fever is a painful, debilitating disease caused by viruses transmitted by mosquitoes that breed in stagnant water while malaria is caused by a parasite also transmitted by mosquitoes, and cholera is caused by eating food or drinking water contaminated by bacteria.
Mardini said dengue and malaria were endemic in Yemen, though in recent years their prevalence had “been extremely low”. But now, because of the weakness of the country’s health system and problems with its water supplies and sanitation, malaria and dengue are appearing again, he said.
The conflict in Yemen began with the 2014 takeover of the capital, Sanaa, by Houthi rebels who have taken control of much of the country’s north. A Saudi-led coalition allied with the internationally recognised government has been fighting the Houthis since 2015.
The civil war has left tens of thousands of people dead, most of them civilians, according to relief organisations.
It has also generated the worst humanitarian crisis anywhere in the world, the UN says.