Last year, the already war-ravaged country of Yemen was further struck when it saw the world’s worst outbreak of cholera.
More than 1 million suspected cases were recorded, and it cost more than 2,200 lives.
The potentially life-threatening illness is spread easily through contaminated water, and so the threat of an outbreak becomes significantly more pressing during the rainy season.
That season is fast approaching in Yemen, where civil war has been raging for four years, and it is expected to bring with it the risk of another potentially devastating outbreak.
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A UK aid-backed vaccination campaign has been underway in the country, with the first phase completed on Tuesday.
More than 450,000 people have already been vaccinated but, according to the UK’s International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt, millions are still at risk because of blockades preventing humanitarian access to the north of the country.
The UK has this week issued a call for immediate and full access so more people can be vaccinated.
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“With the rainy season now starting, there is a danger that the mass pain and suffering throughout the country could be made even worse by a widespread cholera outbreak,” Mordaunt said.
“The UK is at the forefront of the international response in Yemen with the first ever phase of a cholera vaccination campaign completed today,” she added. “There are still millions of vulnerable people in Yemen whose lives are at risk because aid is being blocked.”
“I urge all parties to the conflict to allow the next phase of the vaccination campaign to proceed and to enable full and unhindered access including in the north of the country,” she said.
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In November, the Saudi-led coalition imposed a total blockade on Yemen’s ports, making humanitarian access impossible for months. That blockade has since been partially lifted but access to the country remains limited, according to Al Jazeera.
The vaccination programme is being funded by Gavi, the vaccine alliance — to which the UK is the largest donor — with vaccinations being administered by the World Health Organisation, UNICEF, and partners. The campaign focused on the five districts around the southern city of Aden.
UK aid funding is also being used in Yemen to detect early signs of a cholera outbreak, to increase awareness of how to prevent the spread of the disease, and to improve access to sanitation and clean or chlorinated water.
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Britain is the fourth-largest donor to the humanitarian response in Yemen, providing £170 million for the 2018-2019 financial year.
Last year, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres described the situation in Yemen as the “worst humanitarian crisis.” The UN has said 22 million people are in need of aid and food support — in a country with a population of just over 27 million. Some 8 million people are facing starvation.
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