by Fuad Rajeh
SANAA, July 4 (Xinhua) -- Doctors in Yemen are calling for raising public awareness and medical aid to the war-torn country to contain the spread of cholera.
The doctors warned that the worst is yet to come though the death toll from the deadly epidemic rose to 1,560. The suspected cases of cholera infection are estimated to reach 252,816 since April 27.
Nashwan Aqlan, a doctor at Al-Jomhori Teaching Hospital in the capital Sanaa and member within the GTZ program to raise awareness about cholera, told Xinhua that almost all measures are being taken by local authorities and international agencies are only restricted to providing medicines and treatment for patients.
But more work need to be done to tackle the causes of the epidemic, including raising the public's awareness of the danger of the epidemic so to prevent more infections, Aqlan said.
"We need more activities to raise awareness about cholera. Many people don't take precautions to prevent it ... Most importantly, we need to address the collapse of the sanitation system," Aqlan said.
"This disease won't be contained unless we address the lack of access to clean water and adequate sanitation services immediately," he added.
More than half of Yemen's population, or 14.5 million, lack access to clean water and adequate sanitation services, the United Nations says, amid warnings the healthcare system is on the brink of total collapse.
Less than 45 percent of Yemen's hospitals are operational at the moment, but even those operational are facing huge challenges, mainly lack of medicines, medical equipment and staffs.
The Public Health and Population Ministry has allowed a specific number of hospitals and medical centers to treat people affected by cholera to prevent further spread of the disease.
But the number of these hospitals and centers, 10 in the capital Sanaa and 18 in the governorate of Sanaa, is not enough, Aqlan said.
"Many patients are being treated on the floor or in the lobbies. In some cases, a whole family, six members or more, receives treatment in a single bed," he added.
In addition, there is a need to address shortage of medicines for patients with chronic diseases, heart and kidney for example, since these patients make up the majority of the deaths from cholera, doctors said.
Doctors expected the number of infected people to increase as the rain season is approaching.
Yemen is now facing the world's worst cholera outbreak after the epidemic has spread through all cities. Around 5,000 suspected cases are being registered a day, including one case among children every minute.
Wahhaj Al-Maktari, head of the Sanaa-based Sopol Al-Haya Hospital, Yemen's sole critical care hospital, said there is a need for an effective and successful mechanism to consolidate coordination between the authorities and aid agencies to contain cholera.
"Agencies are working separately, in a disorganized way and without coordination with the authorities or among themselves apparently because of lack of trust. This is a key problem affecting the efforts aimed at containing this epidemic," Al-Maktari told Xinhua.
Other challenges include the lack of funding, as many doctors and nurses have not been paid for 10 months, and a shortage of hospitals and doctors especially in remote areas, he added.
"The situation is worrying. If these issues are not addressed immediately, the situation will worsen in coming months and then 50 percent of the suspected cases could die," he said.
In addition, doctors are calling on the rivaling parties fighting in the war-torn country to reach a humanitarian truce so that aid agencies could access conflict areas to provide emergence medical service to cholera patients.