Coronavirus: UN says Yemen’s health system has collapsed

The war-torn country has 184 confirmed cases and 30 deaths but officials say the figures are much higher

A Yemeni worker wearing a protective outfit sprays disinfectant on passing cars and motorcycles in the capital Sanaa, during the ongoing novel coronavirus pandemic crisis, on May 21, 2020. / AFP / Mohammed HUWAIS
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Yemen’s healthcare system “has in effect collapsed” at a time where the country is fighting the novel coronavirus, the UN said on Friday.

"Aid agencies in Yemen are operating on the basis that community transmission is taking place across the country," said Jens Laerke, spokesman for the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (Ocha).

“We hear from many of them that Yemen is really on the brink right now. The situation is extremely alarming, they are talking about that the health system has in effect collapsed,” Jens Laerke told a briefing in Geneva.

The country's health infrastructure problems are caused by the civil war between the internationally recognised government and the Houthi rebels. The fighting has continued despite international calls for a ceasefire, which is hindering the management of the coronavirus outbreak and carrying out of tests.

James Cleverly, the Foreign Office minister for the Middle East and North Africa, wrote in The National that UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres' call for a humanitarian truce should be heeded.

"The UN, the WHO and international NGOs are doing all they can to save Yemeni lives ... But these humanitarian organisations can only do what Yemen’s leaders allow them to," he wrote, pointing out that in Houthi-controlled areas "these restrictions are so severe that they are preventing the delivery of aid to millions of people in need".

According to the World Health Organisation, Yemen has 184 infected cases and 30 fatalities, but

“the actual incidence is almost certainly much higher", Mr Laerke said.

"They are talking about having to turn people away because they do not have enough [medical] oxygen, they do not have enough personal protective equipment," he said.

The United Nations estimates that it will seek $2 billion for Yemen to maintain aid programmes through year-end, he added.

Yemen's government has appealed for international assistance to curb the spread of the disease.

WHO models project half of Yemen’s 30 million population could become infected, resulting in more than 40,000 deaths.

After more than five years of war, half of Yemen's health facilities are dysfunctional, and 18 per cent of the country's 333 districts have no doctors. Water and sanitation systems have collapsed. Many families can barely afford one meal a day.

The country has around 500 ventilators and 700 ICU beds. There is one oxygen cylinder per month for every 2.5 million people. WHO has provided about 6,700 test kits to Yemen, split between north and south, and says another 32,000 are coming.

The health agency says it is trying to procure more protective equipment and supplies to fight the virus, but efforts have been hampered because of travel restrictions and competition with other countries.


Coronavirus around the Middle East