Yemen in Focus: War has hindered Yemen's chances to beat coronavirus

Yemen in Focus: War has hindered Yemen's chances to beat coronavirus

This week we focus on Yemen's ongoing coronavirus outbreak, Houthi calls to liberate Mecca and a positive Eid story from Yemen.
5 min read
21 May, 2020
Hundreds have died in Yemen. [Getty]
The brutal conflict in Yemen, which has seen foreign actors chime in to settle their differences, has left the already impoverished country unable to handle the deadly novel coronavirus.

Five years into what most would describe as a stalled conflict, Yemen has now been hit with Covid-19 and is rapidly losing the battle with the disease. 

It is estimated that thousands have already been infected with the virus across the country, and in major cities like Aden, hundreds are dying by the day, although authorities have so far failed to provide a transparent view into what has been deemed 'mysterious' cases of deaths.

The first coronavirus case in Aden, the government's interim capital, was only recorded about a month ago.

But since then, the total number of deaths registered in the city has "increased seven-fold", according to Saddam al-Haidari, a physician at a public hospital.

Hospitals have stopped admitting patients with symptoms of the Covid-19 disease caused by the novel coronavirus in recent days, several health sources told AFP, since they are not equipped to deal with the virus.

Many doctors in Aden have deserted their posts because they don't have access to protective gear, these sources added, while several hospitals have even closed down, according to Save the Children.

Five years into what most would describe as a stalled conflict, Yemen has now been hit with Covid-19 and is rapidly losing the battle with the disease

"Our teams on the ground are seeing how people are being sent away from hospitals, breathing heavily or even collapsing," said Mohammed Alshamaa, Save the Children's director of programmes in Yemen. 

"People are dying because they can't get treatment that would normally save their lives."

Since the start of May, Major General Sanad Jamil, head of Aden's Civil Status Department said 623 people have died in the port city, most of whom died at home from 'coronavirus-like' symptoms.

"The current state of the health sector is in complete shambles and totally deteriorated. For many countries, COVID means testing and isolation in the luxury of well-equipped hospitals, but in Yemen, there are no testing capacities, no well-equipped hospitals and no protection for patients nor medical staff," Summer Nasser, head of Yemen Aid, told The New Arab.

"The average citizen is not able to quarantine because their daily income will be impacted. Yemen is a country where over 20 million people are impoverished due to the conflict. We do not see quarantine possible at this time since there is no financial support by the Government due to a hindered economy," she added.

The five-year conflict has decimated Yemen's health care system and has left half of all health facilities unable to function - severely affecting more than 80 percent of the population that are then forced to live without essential services. This makes the country "particularly vulnerable to diseases that can generally be cured or eradicated elsewhere in the world," the International Committee of the Red Cross said.

"Yemen's hospitals are already under significant pressure, even without the threat of coronavirus. They regularly treat war-wounded patients and the beginning of Ramadan this year coincides with the onset of the rainy season and the associated seasonal increase in infectious diseases, including cholera, diphtheria and dengue. With the looming threat of Covid-19, it's more important than ever to continue to support health facilities and places of detention to put mitigating measures in place with the aim to maintain vital health services in Yemen,'' said Avril Patterson, ICRC health coordinator for Yemen.

'Liberate Mecca'

In other news this week, the leader of Yemen's Houthis called for the "liberation" of Mecca and other holy places in Saudi Arabia, which he said were being controlled by the Quraysh of today, referencing the tribe that stood against the Prophet Muhammad in Mecca during the birth of Islam.

Many doctors in Aden have deserted their posts because they don't have access to protective gear,  while several hospitals have even closed down

"It is a crime against those holy places and one of the biggest crimes of all time" that they remain under Saudi control, Abdelmalik Al-Houthi said, urging for "believers" to take control of the sites, without clearly explaining who he meant.

The lecture, which was broadcast by the rebel groups' own Al-Masirah TV during the holy Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, came just days after Yemen's internationally-recognised government accused the Houthis of stealing some 35 billion Yemeni riyals (roughly $53.9 million) worth of salaries for civil servants from an account at the Hodeida-based Yemen Central Bank branch.

Yemen's foreign ministry slammed the move as a "flagrant violation" of a UN-brokered arrangement to pay civil servant salaries using fees from oil imports at the port of Hodeida, Al-Masdar Online reported.

However, the rebels had earlier announced their intention to withdraw from the bank account, noting they would use the funds to pay civil servants a quarter of their monthly wages.

Just days before the withdrawal, UN Special Envoy to Yemen, Martin Griffiths affirmed his "office has repeatedly requested documentation from Ansar Allah (Houthis) that is needed to verify the Special Account activity. Indeed, I have written to the leadership to personally reiterate this request."

Mohammed's glasses

In more positive news this week, a photo of a young displaced Yemeni boy who made his own glasses went viral across Yemen's social media circles.

The photo by Abdullah Al-Jaradi, which was taken at a camp for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the Marib governorate, showed the young Mohammed wearing lens-less glasses made from a clothes hanger.

The young boy offered the glasses to the photographer in exchange for a photo, which led Al-Jaradi to launch an online auction that would then raise at least 2.5 million Yemeni riyals, or about $4,200 by social media users worldwide.

The funds were used to provide Eid clothes to the children of the entire camp, just days ahead of the end of Ramadan festivities.

Yemen In Focus is a regular feature from The New Arab.

Sana Uqba is a journalist at The New Arab. 

Follow her on Twitter: @Sanasiino