The Public Health Crisis in Yemen

What Is Happening?


Yemen is facing the worst humanitarian crisis in history. Nearly 80% of Yemen’s population lacks access to basic needs: food, water, and healthcare. Instead, they rely on humanitarian aid for survival. According to the United Nations (UN), approximately 15 million people will reach crisis-level food insecurity by mid-2021.



In addition to these general humanitarian issues, healthcare has evolved into a broader crisis in Yemen. This crisis began with the cholera outbreak that infected millions of people. Despite cholera being an easily treatable disease, thousands of people died. Other contagious diseases, such as diphtheria, caused outbreaks in late 2017 and crippled Yemen’s population. Diabetes is also a critical health concern in Yemen, because it is responsible for over 25% of limb amputations in the country.

These health crises have expanded due to the lack of healthcare in Yemen, which can be traced back to war conflict. Half of the country’s healthcare facilities have either been partially or completely damaged by conflict, and healthcare workers have not been paid a livable wage for over two years. Medical equipment and medications are in limited supply. Yemen’s population has little to no access to proper healthcare, meaning they are unable to receive care until it is too late, leaving many people without preventive or life-saving treatments.


The COVID-19 Pandemic


The coronavirus pandemic has only deepened the healthcare crisis in Yemen. Over 5 years of war conflict has led to a steep decline in Yemen’s healthcare. However, head of MSF’s mission in Yemen, Claire Haduong, says the pandemic has confirmed its “complete collapse” as hospitals close in fear of the virus.

Yemen’s healthcare system completely lacks the resources needed to respond to viral outbreaks. COVID-19 has caused a mix of fear and denial in Yemen as people panic in understanding and confronting the severity and spread of the virus. The lack of resources coupled with the understandable stigma around COVID-19 led to the closing of many remaining healthcare facilities in fear of spreading the virus. Many healthcare workers have neither the means nor the will to work in hospitals. As a result, many humanitarian organizations provide healthcare resources and foreign workers to alleviate the effects of the pandemic.

These healthcare workers witnessed misery. Due to the fear and panic surrounding COVID-19, many Yemenis are not educated on the symptoms and treatment of the virus, leading to a fear of virus epicenters (i.e. hospitals). A majority of infected people were unwilling to receive care from healthcare facilities and if they mustered the courage to do so, it was too late. By this point, coronavirus had become so severe within the patient that it became incredibly difficult to save their life. The fifteen ICU beds in Yemen’s capital, Sana’a, have been constantly overwhelmed, meaning that even fewer critical patients can receive proper care.


This is what one doctor from volunteer organization Medecins Sans Frontieres, Nazir Jahlan, had to say:


“People enter the emergency room walking, but they are already deeply deprived of oxygen without being aware of it, and they die in a surprisingly short amount of time. That is shocking" (msf.org).


Reproductive Health in the Pandemic


Reproductive health has become an especially urgent issue in Yemen’s healthcare crisis. Without access to proper obstetric resources, mothers and children tend to bear the brunt of Yemen’s healthcare collapse. This danger to women and children is greatly increased by the effects of the pandemic.

One of the obstacles to proper reproductive health is the funding of obstetric care facilities. The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) was the sole source of funding for Yemen’s reproductive services. They served millions of women and children with maternal resources and provided the country with over 4,000 reproductive healthcare workers. The organization designated a $100 million budget to provide relief for women affected by the reproductive healthcare crisis. One midwife at Al Shahel Rural Hospital described how that funding was a game-changer by allowing midwives, female doctors, and reproductive health medicines to be present. She says, “a turning point for the village” as they served over 23,000 people! However, as the pandemic worsened, the UNFPA could no longer afford to provide adequate funding as demands increased by $24 million and less than half of the intended relief was implemented. With this issue unresolved, nearly 90% of life-saving reproductive healthcare facilities would be forced into closing. This would put over 2 million women at risk of reproductive health issues and over 50,000 women at the risk of dying from pregnancy complications.


Below is a photo of a midwife in Yemen responding to house calls in conflict-stricken villages:


These are the tragic stories of Yemeni mothers who had been affected by this crisis:

  • Mariam, a widow and mother of four daughters, had been receiving antenatal care from a UNFA-funded clinic- this was also the only clinic in her district. She arrived at the clinic with heavy bleeding and in need of medical assistance, but soon found out that funding was suspended and the doctors had departed as a result. Later, Mariam passed away from a hemorrhage.

  • Zainab had planned to give birth at a reproductive healthcare facility, but the facility lost its gynecologist due to the funding cuts. Because of this, Zainab was forced to perform an at-home birth and was helpless when complications occured. Soon after delivering her newborn daughter Safiya, Zainab passed away from postpartum bleeding.

Ways to Help


It is clear that the healthcare crisis in Yemen is an urgent issue that must be resolved by providing aid for COVID-19, reproductive care, and general healthcare. Many humanitarian organizations have played a large role in helping to achieve this goal, but are far from reversing the collapse of Yemen’s healthcare.

If you are in a position to donate to help alleviate the effects of the Yemen crisis, here are a few organizations to support:

  • UNICEF Yemen: UNICEF has launched cholera vaccination campaigns and provided nutrition and health packages to mothers and children in Yemen. Donate directly through the UNICEF Yemen website by clicking on the ‘Donate’ button in the top right corner.

  • Save the Children: Save the Children is the largest humanitarian aid organization in Yemen and has focused on providing the children of Yemen with vital care since 2015. Donate directly through the Save the Children website by clicking on the ‘Donate’ button in the center of the webpage.

  • Islamic Relief: Islamic Relief is one of the leading relief organizations alleviating the Yemen crisis with nearly 3,000 staff and volunteers in the country. This organization has also played a role in responding to the coronavirus pandemic in Yemen. Other organizations depend on Islamic Relief to deliver aid to Yemen, too. Donate directly through the Islamic Relief website by clicking on the ‘Donate’ button in the center of the webpage.

  • UNFPA: As stated earlier, the United Nations Population Fund has had a massive impact on the reproductive health facilities of Yemen, helping millions of women and girls. In turn, their funding shortages have created tragedy for many. Donate directly through the UNFPA website by clicking on the ‘Donate’ button in the top right corner.

If you are unable to donate to these organizations, another way to help is by playing Free Rice. This game is affiliated with the United Nations World Food Programme and provides food relief to countries like Yemen. Free Rice is a simple question and answer game- the more correct answers you get, the more rice will be donated!


Thank you for reading! Sincerely,

Alisha Khodabocus


Sources:

https://www.unicef.org/yemen/health

https://www.icrc.org/en/where-we-work/middle-east/yemen/health-crisis-yemen

https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/yemen-crisis

https://www.unfpa.org/news/matter-life-and-death-yemens-women-and-girls-funding-dries

https://www.msf.org/COVID-19-has-made-yemen-health-system-collapse-complete

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