Researchers sequenced the genomes of cholera bacteria samples collected in Yemen, South Asia, the Middle East, eastern Africa and central Africa.
Researchers at Britain's Wellcome Sanger Institute and France's Institut Pasteur found that a strain of cholera that is causing an epidemic in Yemen came from eastern Africa and likely transferred through migration.
"Knowing how cholera moves globally, gives us the opportunity to better prepare for future outbreaks," said Nick Thomson, a professor at Sanger who co-led the study.
To explore the origins of the outbreak, researchers sequenced the genomes of cholera bacteria samples collected in Yemen, South Asia, the Middle East, eastern Africa and central Africa.
After comparing these sequences to a global collection of more than 1,000 cholera samples, scientists found that the strain causing the Yemen epidemic is related to one first detected in south Asia, in 2012. However, the strain, which arrived in Yemen in 2016, was circulating in eastern Africa in 2013-14.
Yemen's health dilemma has been worsening due to an ongoing war that intensified when Saudi Arabia and eight other Arab countries - supported by the United States, the United Kingdom and France - launched strikes against the Houthis, a Shiite group that rebelled against President Abdrabbuh Hadi.
As a way to support the Sunni groups that control Yemen, Saudi Arabia has maintained an air, land and maritime blockade against the country since 2016.
Out of a population of 28 million people in #Yemen, 22 million are in need of humanitarian aid. 5.2 million children are starving to death, & one million are infected with cholera. Over 8 million people are facing famine, and 2 million are displaced & deprived of basic needs. pic.twitter.com/Xf9CHVUKYq— AlonBenMeir (@AlonBenMeir) December 29, 2018
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there are seven million Yemenis in famine and they depend on foreign aid to survive. At least 85,000 children, under the age of five, have reportedly died of hunger since the attacks on Yemen intensified three years ago.
The outbreak of cholera in Yemen is the worst recorded in history given that it has exceeded 1.2 million cases since 2017.
According to the Red Cross, 15 million Yemenis do not have access to drinking water and 90 percent depend on the water that arrives in tankers.
Besides, the Saudi Arabian blockade disrupts fuel availability, and therefore, impedes the transportation of water.