Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, the ongoing conflict in Yemen made the country perceived as the worst humanitarian crisis in the world.
As the coronavirus sets in, Doctors Without Borders (MSF) deputy director of operations for Yemen, Marc Schakal, said that many residents have avoided treatment for fear of the disease.
Here, he warns that an increased international response is now necessary in the face of COVID-19 or that an already serious situation could become more deadly:
MSF has long been used to treating epidemics in Yemen. Five years of war have destroyed the country’s health system and diseases such as cholera, measles and diphtheria have ravaged the population since 2015, causing misery and death.
The arrival of COVID-19[female[feminine in the country has been particularly frightening for us because all the conditions for this deadly disease to take hold have been met.
Hospitals have been bombed or their staff receive little money. The population has been weakened by the war.
It is a poor country where many people live in crowded cities – often in unsanitary environments – making it difficult to apply basic precautions such as physical distance and hand washing. Others live in a remote countryside, where there is little health care.
In addition to all this, fighting is still continuing on the front lines across the country. These are the things that make us fear the worst for Yemen.
Since we heard about the pandemic, we have been working with local authorities to help them prepare to respond. However, this was difficult in a country which remains divided and whose health system, which lacks resources, is further weakened by the reduction in international funding.
In the capital, Sanaa, we support the Ministry of Health in one of their COVID-19 treatment centers, in particular by treating the sickest patients in the intensive care unit. In Aden, we also manage a treatment center, still with an intensive care unit, and we again treat very sick patients.
In Aden, we see that people are really afraid of the virus: other hospitals have closed because the staff are afraid and cannot protect themselves. Many of the city’s medical staff have already fallen ill. This means that more patients are coming to our trauma hospital for treatment, which remains open despite the pandemic.
We also see this fear at the COVID-19 center, where patients with severe breathing difficulties arrive very late, apparently too scared to come to the hospital. Our team of international and Yemeni staff work around the clock 24 hours a day to treat patients, but it makes it much more difficult when they arrive long after their arrival. The mortality rate is high.
The ability to test COVID-19 remains very, very limited in Yemen, which means it is not possible to know the true extent of its spread – but the World Health Organization has stated that it thought that a>.
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In order to weather this perfect storm, the The United Nations and donor states no longer have to wait. They must step up their response to COVID-19 in Yemen by providing money to pay health workers and by organizing the provision of personal protective equipment (PPE) necessary to keep them safe.
The country also needs more oxygen concentrators to help sick patients breathe. These should be offered to everyone equally across the country.
Local authorities should do everything in their power to facilitate the work of international organizations such as MSF who are working with them to respond to the virus, and facilitate the entry of medical supplies and international staff to strengthen teams in the field .
The spread of COVID-19 in Yemen is already killing people. Without drastic action and international support, it will become even more deadly.