SANAA, Yemen - In a public hospital in downtown Yemen's rebel-held capital, Sanaa, doctors are on emergency alert over a sudden flare-up of deadly diphtheria. The intensified care unit is full of sick children and women, infected with the disease, a bacterial infection spread from person to person through coughing or sneezing. The disease causes a thick covering in the back of the throat and the most serious cases can kill a child within hours, if not treated immediately.

Mohammed Saghir Yahya, a 35-year-old father of five, was wiping his tears just a few hours after he buried his two children killed by diphtheria. "I rushed my family from the village and arrived at the hospital two days ago. My youngest child died while we were travelling to the hospital, my second child died on Saturday in hospital, my wife and my other three children are now in the intensive care unit," Yahya, said.

Yahya's sons, Ahmed, three, and Abdullah, 10, were confirmed dead from diphtheria by officials of al-Sabeen hospital. His wife and the other three children were still in critical condition at the hospital, according to doctor Yassir al-Sultan, the deputy head of al-Sabeen hospital's intensive care unit for treating diphtheria. The father said, he sold his small mud-brick house in Safan village, in Haraz district, to secure a taxi for transporting his family to hospital.

Despite that Haraz is part of Sanaa province, the travel from there to the capital Sanaa could take more than 15 hours of drive because of the unpaved, ragged, mountainous road, as many bridges and paved highway have been destroyed by air strikes.

"The hospital has received this week, up to 64 diphtheria cases, mostly children, 11 of them have died, including the two children of Mohammed Saghir Yahya," Sultan said, stressing the increasing number of diphtheria infections in just one week.

"I call on all humanitarian aid agencies to help us provide medical supplies to combat the epidemic, which apparently begin to spread very fast. Many patients have died because the hospital lacks many types of important medicines to treat critical cases," he said.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), the diphtheria outbreak in Yemen was first reported in Oct, 2017, since then the disease has spread rapidly across the country, infecting more that 1,300 people and killing over 70, until Mar this year, mostly children.

The Yemeni health authorities in Sanaa said the number of diphtheria infections across the country have since Mar increased to 2,572, including 1,491 children. As many as 141 patients have died, including 126 children, according to recent statistics issued by the health authorities in Sanaa this week.


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