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War-torn Yemen is facing ‘an abyss’

29 May 2020


A health worker checks a boy’s temperature at the entrance to a mosque in Sanaa, Yemen, this month

A health worker checks a boy’s temperature at the entrance to a mosque in Sanaa, Yemen, this month

YEMEN is being pushed “further into the abyss” as cases of Covid-19 spread rapidly there amid the continuing conflict, charities have said.

They warn that the virus is spreading fast, and, owing to lack of protective equipment for medics, hospitals in some parts of the country are closing for all but emergency treatment, leaving people to die at home.

Save the Children has said that only two hospitals in Aden remain open for emergencies — which do not include those with Covid-19 symptoms. Health services in the country are on the brink of collapse after five years of war. There are 142 ventilators for the whole of Yemen.

“Covid-19 is pushing this country even further into the abyss,” the Yemen country director for Save the Children, Xavier Joubert, said. “The surging deaths in Aden suggest that the virus is spreading far faster and further than the number of confirmed cases. Hospitals are closing down and patients being turned away or left to die.

“The warring parties have hopelessly failed to implement a lasting ceasefire, and that is directly leading to a spike in deaths, both from Covid-19 and other diseases — for which they should be held accountable. The violence needs to stop so the Yemeni people, health workers, and aid organisations can focus on curbing the virus.”

The official tally recorded by Johns Hopkins University reported 249 cases in Yemen, and 49 deaths as of today, but, because of a shortage of testing equipment, the real number is far higher, aid agencies say. Broadcasters have filmed the digging of rows of graves in cities, including Aden. The Archdeacon in the Gulf, the Ven. Dr Bill Schwartz, said that he had heard reports that families were burying relatives without any reference to the authorities, and that “there are a lot of burials these days.”

More than 24 million Yemenis — 80 per cent of the population — are already reliant for survival on humanitarian aid. The World Health Organization said that it was being forced to shut some of its aid programmes in Yemen, owing to lack of funding, including closing feeding centres for the most severely malnourished children.

The UN’s deputy emergency relief co-ordinator, Ramesh Rajasingham, said: “Amidst a pandemic, this is shocking.” Preventing disease and feeding sick children were, he said, the kinds of programmes that should be “protected at all costs”. The UN has warned that the country could experience “catastrophic” food shortages during the pandemic.

The five-year conflict between Saudi-backed coalition forces and Houthi rebels has already killed more than 100,000 people since 2015. Health and sanitation systems have been destroyed, and diseases such as cholera are rife. Other prevalent diseases, such as dengue fever, share some symptoms with Covid-19, making it harder to track the spread of the virus.

The UN envoy to Yemen said last week that he believed that “significant progress” had been made towards cementing a temporary truce prompted by the coronavirus pandemic, and paving the way for a resumption of stalled peace talks. Making peace was the best way to tackle the coronavirus outbreak, he said.

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