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How war weakens national immune systems

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Conflict weakens national immune systems, leading to catastrophic public health emergencies. People lose access to shelter, food, clean water, sanitation and healthcare, making them far more susceptible to deadly diseases.  Doctors Without Borders show how outbreaks of infections can devastate already war-torn communities.

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2018 marks the 100th anniversary of the 1918 influenza pandemic that swept the globe in what is still one of the deadliest disease outbreaks in recorded history. It is estimated that about 500 million people or one-third of the world’s population became infected with this virus, which occurred during World War I; close quarters and massive troop movements helped fuel the spread of disease.

In Yemen today, after three years of fighting, the numbers are stunning: In a nation of nearly 29 million, 22 million Yemenis are in need of humanitarian assistance, according to the UN. With the economy and health care system in shambles, Yemenis make desperate decisions to find medical treatment. Some take dangerous cross-country journeys to hospitals run by humanitarian groups, like Doctors Without Borders; others spend their savings at private clinics. More than half of Yemen’s hospitals are closed or partly functioning, and sometimes administrators must choose between buying medical supplies and fuel for generators. Infectious diseases such as cholera and diphtheria are rampant, reflecting the lack of treated water and other basic government services.

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