At least 21 child cancer patients in Yemen have died and dozens more were seriously ill after being given an expired cancer treatment in the rebel-held capital of Sanaa, a government official and activists told The National.
Yemen's internationally recognised government and the Iran-backed Houthi rebels have been at war for eight years. The conflict has battered the country's health sector., leaving only half of Yemen's health facilities functioning.
Those in need of health assistance in 2022 will reach a whopping 21.9 million people, with 12.6 million in acute need, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).
The WHO estimates that 4,300 children are currently diagnosed with cancer in Yemen this year.
“The Houthi militias injected more than 50 child cancer patients with an expired dose of treatment in Kuwait Hospital, which led to the poisoning and deaths of more than 21 children so far,” said a statement given to The National by the Yemeni coalition of independent women.
A vigil was held in front of the UN headquarters in Geneva by activists and relatives of the children on Tuesday evening.
“We consider this to be a crime against humanity, and international action must be taken to punish the criminals among the militia leaders,” the statement said.
Families of the children have been subjected to extortion, pressure and threats by the Houthis “to not speak out against them”, it said.
“The rebels have attempted to hide the crime and to protect those involved in the operation that was headed by the Houthi Health Minister, Taha Al Motwakil,” it said.
As the economy collapses and imports are restricted, medicines and equipment that are readily available in other countries are scarce in Yemen.
Yemen's Deputy Human Rights Minister, Majed Al Fadhil, told The National the rebels have been exploiting the assistance of international groups with health supplies and are diverting it to “their own benefit”.
“They have been smuggling expired medicine through companies owned by their leaders and are selling them in the local markets which is generating the group a lot of money,” he said.
The actions that the rebels are committing are considered “mass killings in areas under Houthi control”
“The militias have killed more than 20 children after administrating contaminated cancer medicine that they have disturbed to a number of hospitals under their control,” Mr Al Fadhil said.
“They are depriving adequate cancer treatment to those that desperately need it.”
The Yemeni official said the “silence” of the international community about these crimes are encouraging the rebels to commit further violations against the Yemeni population.