A growing number of COVID-19 cases are increasing pressure on Yemen’s already strained health system in war-torn Yemen, an international medical charity has warned.
Docteur Sans Frontières (MSF) reported a “dramatic influx of critically ill COVID-19 patients requiring hospitalization in Aden, Yemen and many other parts of the country” and called on humanitarian groups and international donors to intensify their activities and funding “immediately”.
“We urge all medical humanitarian organizations already present in Yemen to rapidly step up their emergency response against COVID-19,” said Raphael Veicht, MSF head of mission in Yemen.
“All aspects of the response to COVID-19 are lacking and need greater international support, from public health messages to vaccinations to oxygen therapy,” Veicht said in a statement Thursday. “Support is needed at all levels.”
Yemen has been torn by conflict since 2014, when the Houthi armed group took control of large swathes of the country, including the capital Sana’a.
The war escalated significantly in March 2015 when a coalition of countries in the region led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates intervened in an attempt to restore the internationally recognized government overthrown by the Houthis.
At least 130,000 people have been killed in the fighting, including at least 13,000 civilians killed in targeted attacks, according to the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project.
The conflict has pushed the country to the brink of famine, with the UN describing the situation as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
Cuts in humanitarian budgets last year forced the closure of many programs, including health services and food distribution, straining a country where two-thirds of the population depend on some form help to survive.
In early March, the United Nations appealed for $ 3.85 billion, but only $ 1.7 billion was offered in a move that was condemned by UN chief Antonio Guterres as “death sentence“.
“Unfortunately, many of the patients we see are already in critical condition when they arrive,” said Line Lootens, MSF medical coordinator in Yemen. “Most patients need very high levels of oxygen and medical treatment. Some patients also require mechanical ventilation in an ICU, which is technically difficult and requires a very high standard of care.
While experts believe the actual figure is much higher, so far the country has reported around 3,900 cases and more than 830 deaths, according to data collected by John Hopkins University.
The Supreme National Coronavirus Emergency Committee on Wednesday called on the government to “declare a [public] state of health emergency in all provinces, prepare health centers and hospitals, and provide medical personnel with personal protective equipment. “
Meanwhile, the country has yet to administer a single dose of the vaccine.
“While some countries have successfully vaccinated half of their populations, Yemen is at the end of the vaccine queue, again underscoring the global inequality of access to vaccines as no one has been vaccinated in the country so far, ”said Veicht.
Yemen is among the countries that expect to receive doses of COVAX, an international platform that aims to deliver two billion shots to the world’s poorest countries this year.
The UN-backed facility was hit this week by India’s decision to limit its exports of AstraZeneca vaccines, many of which were destined for COVAX.
However, UNICEF has confirmed that a batch of vaccine destined for Yemen is still on the way for delivery next week.