Rachel Thompson

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Conflicts contaminate the air and water, reduce access to nutritious food and create stressful living conditions. Photo: Getty Images.

From starving children in Yemen to bombed-out hospitals in Syria, today’s media offers many images depicting the impacts of conflict on health. Where conflicts occur, international and local aid workers rush to treat the wounded and assist with essential food supplies and vaccinations.

However, many people in humanitarian crises also suffer and die from chronic diseases, which now account for 7 in 10 of all deaths worldwide. Conflicts contaminate the air and water, reduce access to nutritious food and create stressful living conditions. This makes people sicker and more susceptible to chronic illness. At the same time, health workers flee, hospitals are targeted and there are medication shortages.…  Seguir leyendo »

Civil defence members remove the remnants of a rocket on the outskirts of Douma in February. Photo: Getty Images

Only days after a supposed ceasefire was declared in eastern Ghouta, at least 100 people were reportedly killed, and many more injured, by what appears to be a chemical attack in Douma city.

Local medical sources reported more than 500 cases with symptoms indicative of poisoning by a chemical agent. The symptoms are consistent with an organophosphorous compound, which is the basis of sarin and other nerve agents. Some reports also suggest that the weapon may have contained chlorine.

The already shattered health system in Douma city struggled to manage this mass causality incident: it was difficult to identify the exact chemical used and the sparse medical supplies there were insufficient to treat injuries and reverse neurological symptoms.…  Seguir leyendo »

Yemeni children suspected of being infected with cholera receive treatment at a hospital in Sanaa. Photo: Getty Images.

Four months ago, the situation in Yemen was dire: there had been 124,000 suspected cases of cholera, and experts were predicting that it could rise to 300,000. Urgent action was called for – from health and humanitarian actors as well as from warring parties – to allow the population better access to health care and to allow supplies to reach those in need.

These pleas have had little effect. As of 2 November, with an estimated 900,000 suspected cases, Yemen’s cholera outbreak has now surpassed that of Haiti (which has seen 815,000 cases since 2010) to become the largest recorded in recent history.…  Seguir leyendo »

A child suspected of being infected with cholera sits outside a makeshift hospital in Sana'a, Yemen.

From a lack of basic public services, to violations of internal humanitarian law by warring parties, Yemen’s humanitarian crisis is daunting. But infectious disease outbreaks, like the cholera currently sweeping Yemen, should not be considered inevitable. By pressuring donors to urgently deliver on pledged resources, and by supporting humanitarian advocacy efforts to protect and promote access to health and other essential commodities and services, cholera can be stopped.

The outbreak

In terms of health security risks, cholera in Yemen is a ‘known known’. We know that infectious diseases such as cholera spread in conflict zones, where there is lack of water, poor sanitation and a weak or absent health system.…  Seguir leyendo »

A damaged hospital room in Aleppo on 14 August 2012. Photo: Getty Images.

Amidst the furore over the alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria, it is easy to overlook the subsequent bombing of the hospital where the victims were taken – itself a potential serious violation of international humanitarian law. As the war in Syria drags on, the question of how to ensure protection for the wounded and sick, as well as their doctors and nurses, in conflicts around the world is one that must not be neglected. The obligation to allow access to medical care in war is important because it defends the most vulnerable – the protection of the wounded and sick is the protection of our wider humanity.…  Seguir leyendo »