DUBAI: Amid a conflict that has divided the nation and – according to the UN - the worst humanitarian crisis since World War II, Yemen’s population of 27 million is also dealing with diseases that cause early deaths.
Aside from cholera, Yemen is affected by numerous neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) – an epidemic that is affecting 1.5 billion people worldwide and killing around 170,000 per year.
“NTDs are a diverse group of communicable diseases that prevail in tropical and subtropical conditions in 149 countries – affect more than one billion people and cost developing economies billions of dollars every year,” Associate Director of External Relations of END Fund, Yayne Hailu told Arab News.
The five most common NTDs are intestinal worms, schistosomiasis, trachoma, lymphatic filariasis and river blindness.
Intestinal worms cause infection which give the patient diarrhea with blood and mucus in the stool. Schistosomiasis cause abdominal pain, diarrhea, bloody stool, or blood in the urine. Trachoma causes a roughening of the inner surface of the eyelids. Lymphatic filariasis affects body’s fluid balance and fights infections. While river blindness causes severe itching, bumps under the skin, and blindness.
Populations living in poverty, without adequate sanitation and in close contact with infectious vectors and domestic animals and livestock are those worst affected.
Yemen has one of the highest levels of NTDs across the Middle East, according to the END Fund, a private philanthropic initiative dedicated to ending the five most common NTDs, whose founding investment came from Legatum Foundation, a Dubai-based private investment company.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimated that in 2016, over 6 million people in Yemen were in need of treatment for NTDs.
Over the last seven years, Yemen’s Ministry of Public Health and Population with support from NGOs, began treating people suffering from schistosomiasis and intestinal worms. And according to the END Fund, nine million people received treatment for these two diseases since 2013.
However, treatment was stopped in 2015 due to the conflict, but localized rounds were conducted in 2016 and 2017 in areas deemed secure. But, due to security issues, treatment is difficult, a report by the END Fund said.
It is not known what the exact number is of the those currently affected due to the lack of facilities and disruptions caused by war.
Hailu explained that the unstable situation in Yemen could lead to the wide spread of the diseases.
“Conflict can pose several threats including migration of large numbers of people fleeing conflict zones and living in crowded areas with a lack of access to proper sanitation and clean water,” she said.
She also stated that the conflict could cause several people to interrupt their treatment, which is often a multi-year process.
“If treatment is unable to continue, this could cause a resurgence of these diseases and halt progress being made in ending them in certain communities,” Hailu said.