A surging number of COVID-19 cases is increasing the pressure on war-torn Yemen’s already strained healthcare system, an international medical charity has warned.
Doctor Without Borders (MSF) reported a “dramatic influx of critically ill COVID-19 patients requiring hospitalisation in Aden, Yemen, and many other parts of the country” and called on humanitarians groups and international aid donors to “immediately” scale up activities and funding.
“We are urging all medical humanitarian organisations already present in Yemen to rapidly scale up their COVID-19 emergency response,” said Raphael Veicht, head of mission of MSF in Yemen.
“All aspects of the COVID-19 response are lacking and need greater international support, from public health messaging, to vaccinations to oxygen therapy,” Veicht said in a statement on Thursday. “Support is needed across the board.”
Yemen has been torn by conflict since 2014, when the Houthi armed group took control over large swaths of the country, including the capital Sanaa.
The war escalated significantly in March 2015 when a coalition of regional countries led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates intervened in an attempt to restore the internationally recognised government toppled by the Houthis.
The conflict has pushed the country to the brink of famine, with the UN describing the situation as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
Shrinking humanitarian budgets last year forced the closure of many programmes, including health services and food distribution, heaping hardship on a country where some two-thirds of the population relies on some form of aid to survive.
In early March, the United Nations had appealed for $3.85bn, but only $1.7bn was offered in a move that was condemned by UN chief Antonio Guterres as a “death sentence“.
“Unfortunately, many of the patients we see are already in a critical condition when they arrive,” said Line Lootens, MSF medical coordinator in Yemen. “Most patients need very high levels of oxygen and medical treatment. Some patients also require mechanical ventilation in the ICU, which is technically difficult and requires a very high level of care.”
While experts estimate the real figure to be much higher, so far the country has reported about 3,900 cases and more than 830 deaths, according to data gathered by the John Hopkins University.