Yemen’s health system is on the brink of collapse, according to the Disasters Emergency Committee, which is running an emergency fundraising appeal for the war-ravaged country.
At least 1,219 children have died as a direct result of the fighting but now a chronic lack of medical supplies and staff has caused an additional 10,000 preventable deaths since the start of the war– the invisible casualties of the Yemen crisis.
More than 270 health facilities have been damaged as a result of the conflict and recent estimates suggest that more than half of 3,500 assessed health facilities are now closed or only partially functioning. This has left eight million children without access to basic healthcare, according to the UN.
There are also critical shortages of qualified staff throughout the country, with many doctors and staff either leaving Yemen or forced to flee their homes and being internally displaced.
Kevin Watkins, CEO of Save the Children who was in Yemen last week, says: “Even before the war far too many Yemeni children were dying of preventable causes. But now, the situation is even worse and every ten minutes, one Yemeni child dies from preventable killers such as diarrhoea, malnutrition and respiratory tract infections – it’s a disgrace. More than that, it’s an avoidable tragedy.
“With parents losing their jobs and livelihoods owing to the chaos of war, many told us they have to sell belongings, such as jewelry, vehicles, gas canisters and land, just to be able to afford the trip to hospital, while others have taken out loans. Once there, they often can’t afford the cost of the medicines their children urgently need or the medicines simply aren’t there.” Hilel Mohammed al Bahri, Deputy Manager of Al-Sabeen Hospital in Sana’a, has seen a 300% increase in the price of most medicines since the war began in March 2015 making them unaffordable to hospitals and most families.
He says: “We have a lack of medicines and salary for doctors and employees. We count on income from the patients who pay small fees. But if we need maintenance or a spare part for our hospital equipment, we don't have the money. We can only put babies under nine months in the ICU. We don't have room for the older babies. We have only 20 beds for ICU units yet we are the only children's hospital in the area.”
With increasing need but few beds and incubators, many babies and children are being turned away from facilities or like at Al-Sabeen Hospital, are being placed alongside children with highly-infectious conditions such measles in the same open wards because the hospital lacks space and equipment for an isolation unit.
DEC member charities such as Save the Children, Oxfam and the British Red Cross are responding to this dire humanitarian crisis. Save the Children, for example, is supporting 60 health facilities and running mobile medical teams that provide life-saving nutrition interventions in hard-to-reach parts of Yemen.
Mike Adamson, Chief Executive of the British Red Cross, said: “In the two years since fighting began, hundreds of hospitals and clinics have been destroyed or damaged. As a result, one of the leading causes of civilian deaths in Yemen is not from injuries caused by the conflict, but mothers and children dying from easily treatable conditions due to a lack of routine health services. This is unacceptable. “Doctors, nurses, and other medical workers do everything they can to save lives, day in day out. It is imperative that they are respected and protected. People must have safe access to health care and humanitarian workers must be protected in order to safely reach those in need."
Oxfam GB Chief Executive Mark Goldring said “The situation in Yemen shames us all. The health and food systems are now weeks away from total collapse and the suffering we are seeing is immense. With eight million children soon with no access to healthcare and seven million people severely hungry, there is a need for forceful diplomatic and humanitarian action to help resolve this brutal conflict.” Agencies are importing essential medicines, supplies and equipment by sea and air. But they need more medicines and to get them in more quickly.
DEC member charities are calling upon all parties to the conflict to cease hostilities and allow rapid and unimpeded humanitarian access throughout Yemen.
To make a donation visit: www.dec.org.uk, call the 24-hour hotline on 0370 60 60 900, donate over the counter at any high street bank or post office, or send a cheque. You can also donate £5 by texting the word SUPPORT to 70000.