Yemen's severely starved children now threatened by world's worst cholera outbreak

The severely starved young victims of the world's biggest humanitarian crisis are now under threat from the worst recorded cholera outbreak in history, as witnessed in disturbing new footage filmed by ITV News.

The western Asian nation of Yemen has been crippled by a civil war now in its third year and is staving off looming famine through foreign aid alone.

Now it is gripped by a battle against an unprecedented outbreak of cholera, which rapidly spreads through contaminated food and water.

More than 1,800 people have already died because of cholera and a further 350,000 are suspected of contracting it since the epidemic began in April.

Health organisations warn the figure will soar to more than 600,000 by the end of 2017.

In a small clinic in Al Zaydiyah, a district in the western Red Sea port city of Hodeidah, 12-year-old Taghreed Hassan is already fighting severe acute malnutrition.

Taghreed Hassan weighs less than a quarter of her healthy weight. Credit: ITV News

She should weigh 30 kilos, but has been starved to barely seven kilos.

Her father, Ibrahim, told ITV News: "My daughter is in need of treatment in a hospital outside of the city but I am a poor man. I am unable to travel but I will treat her here as much as I possibly can."

Ibrahim Hassan said his hopes of giving his daughter the medical aid she needs are impossible. Credit: ITV News

The clinic's doctor said Taghreed had been "slowly improving" since being brought for treatment but said his efforts to help countless more children have been exacerbated by the near collapse of the nation's healthcare system in the conflict.

"We receive lots of cases of children suffering from severe acute malnutrition every day," he said.

"There is a great shortage in medicines and the basic equipment for us to treat them."

Only 45% of Yemeni hospitals are running while only 30% of the needed medicines and medical supplies are getting into the nation, whose dwindling number of medics are now paid through emergency Unicef funding.

Seven million Yemenis are judged to be severely food-insecure and more than 20 million rely on aid as the civil war, which began in March 2015 and has seen millions flee their homes, shows no signs of ending.

Then came cholera.

ITV News filmed the chaotic scenes as the disease's youngest victims were linked to drips as they received treatment at a small centre in Hodeidah.

Doctors at a small centre in Hodeidah treat young cholera victims. Credit: ITV News

Yemen's medical crisis and conflict have led to the now rapidly spreading disease creating 5,000 new cases every day across the nation.

The countrywide destruction of sewage networks and water treatment stations has hastened the expanse of cholera now declared by the World Health Organisation as "the worst in the world".

Young victims of the cholera outbreak are being treated for diahorrea and severe dehydration. Credit: ITV News

The dire sanitation has seen others die from untreated diseases, like malaria or dengue fever.

Around an hour's drive outside of Hodeidah, ITV News met generations of villagers who have seen their youngest claimed by cholera.

Standing in front of the local well as children filled up their buckets, Ahmed Alqutabi demanded action following the death of his four-year-old boy.

"My son died of cholera because the water is contaminated and we don't have a solution for this well," he said.

Mourning father Ahmed Alqutabi called on his government to help Yemenis fight the outbreak. Credit: ITV News

"We ask the government to look for a solution for us to stop this illness that killed our children."

The Soufan Center, a global research group, said the lack of power in the country has made the three crises of war, famine and disease "fundamentally unmanageable".

The World Health Organisation said the cholera outbreak also threatens neighbouring Saudi Arabia as it prepares for late August's mass influx for the annual Hajj pilgrimage.

ITV News previously filmed the wreckage of the bombing of a funeral in the Yemeni capital Sanaa. Credit: ITV News

"The warning serves as a stark reminder that, in a globalised world, long-running civil wars and the destruction of local healthcare systems can eventually pose a threat to global health," the Soufan Center said.

Yet only around half of the UN's $2.1 billion (£1.61 billion) international funding request for Yemen has been raised for 2017.

The president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, Peter Maurer, said the "great tragedy" of the cholera outbreak is that is a "preventable, man-made humanitarian catastrophe".

The civil war has seen millions flee their homes since the conflict began in March 2015. Credit: ITV News

"It is a direct consequence of a conflict that has devastated civilian infrastructure and brought the whole health system to its knees," he said.

"I find this needless suffering absolutely infuriating. The world is sleep-walking into yet more tragedy."

What is cholera?

The symptoms of cholera include severe watery diahorrea and persistent vomiting, which can lead to dehydration and death if untreated.

The infectious disease is picked up by drinking water or eating food contaminated with the cholera bacterium. This releases a toxin into the intestines that causes the diahorrea.

Cholera therefore spreads rapidly in areas with poor sanitation, exacerbated by conflict or famine.

How can it be treated?

Keeping hydrated with uncontaminated water is the key to treating cholera and it is vital that it begins swiftly after contracting the disease.

Bottled, boiled, or chemically disinfected water is advised - while raw foods that also carry the bacterium are to be avoided.

Antibiotics can help reduce the length of diahorrea and the cholera's spread but are only advised in more severe cases and cannot end the problem alone.

Without treatment, in the most extreme cases, the disease is fatal.