Yemen: Death toll rises to 19 in airstrike on MSF-supported Abs hospital in Hajjah

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Abs hospital, in Hajjah governorate, northwestern Yemen, was hit by an airstrike, killing at least 14 people and injuring at least 24. © MSF

Update 17 August:

The death toll now stands at 19; more information to come.

Update 16 August:

According to the latest information gathered by the MSF teams in Hajjah, late last night three of the five patients hospitalised after yesterday’s airstrike died. The death toll from the airstrike on the MSF-supported hospital in northwestern Yemen now stands at 14.

The medical team did all they could for the patients, but they arrived at the hospital in critical condition. The dead include Abdul Kareem al Hakeemi, an MSF staff member who died from injuries caused by the blast. Twenty four people were also injured in the airstrike and were referred to different health facilities in the area. MSF is keeping track of them to monitor their condition.

At the time of the airstrike the hospital was full of patients, including newborns and children. Some people were recovering from surgery, some were in the maternity ward. “MSF evacuated all the patients and staff but with the closure of this once fully functioning hospital that served the whole area, the community is now deprived of essential medical services at a time when access to healthcare is most vital,” says Juan Prieto, MSF Head of Mission in Yemen. MSF is still assessing the damage to the hospital and will launch its own investigation into the attack.

This is the fourth attack against an MSF-supported facility in Yemen in the last year. “After each attack MSF receives reassurances from the actors in the conflict with promises that this will not happen again”, says Teresa Sancristóval, Manager of MSF’s Emergency Unit. “We do not want words, courtesies, overpromises which go undelivered. What we need to see is proof of intent and a commitment that there will be no more airstrikes on medical facilities, staff and patients.”

“This new incident shows that there are no effective measures in place to ensure that hospitals are not another casualty of war. MSF has shared the coordinates and information related to all its facilities in Yemen with all parties to the conflict, yet we have been hit four times. If the current military protocols are leading to ‘mistakes’ then those protocols have to be changed because they are destroying fully functioning medical facilities, and killing and injuring staff and patients.”

Abs hospital was the main medical facility functioning in the western part of Hajjah governorate. The facility had treated 4,611 patients since MSF began supporting it in July 2015. It had a 14-bed emergency room, a maternity ward and a surgical unit. In the last weeks the hospital had seen an increase in the number of wounded patients, mostly victims of recent clashes and the aerial campaign in the area. In the hospital at the time of the airstrike, there were 23 patients in the surgical unit, 25 in the maternity ward, 13 newborns and 12 children in paediatrics.