Health Care Services Crumble In Yemen

It has been another busy day for Dr. Ahlam Al-Maqtari and her colleagues at the Al-Sabeen hospital in Yemen’s capital, Sana’a.

Working tirelessly for long hours without a break, Dr. Al-Maqtari continues to treat injured children and other patients with medical complications who are ferried in from all parts of the city.

“In the first week of the conflict, itself, we received three cases of women with complications during delivery. Two of them died of excessive bleeding because they couldn’t come to the hospital in time as a result of the fighting and lack of transport,” Dr. Al-Maqtari says.

The situation across the country is similar. The challenges for Yemenis seeking medical services are enormous. To date, over 470,000 children under 5 have been directly affected by the closure of 158 health facilities. Those facilities that are open have few medicines to treat children, and essential medical supplies such as bandages, syringes and other crucial equipment are running low. There is also very little fuel to run hospitals and health centres.

“There is no electricity at the hospital. We have no oxygen cylinders. How are we supposed to operate? We have anaesthesia to apply and infant incubators with no oxygen. How can you carry out surgery without electricity to run the equipment? It makes you feel powerless, as if your hands are cut off, while you are expected to treat all these patients,” says the exasperated Dr. Al-Maqtari.

Nearly three months into the conflict, Yemen faces a humanitarian catastrophe with 21 million people in need of humanitarian assistance. UNICEF also projects that, with the fast deteriorating basic social services, 2.5 million children are at risk of suffering from diarrhoea, 1.3 million from pneumonia and nearly 280,000 from severe and acute malnutrition over the next 12 months. The conflict has ground Yemen – already one of the poorest countries in the Middle East – to a halt.

“Every day, children wake up to the horrendous sounds of bombing and street fighting, and what’s worse is that many of these children don’t have enough food to eat, they don’t have safe water, they’re poorly nourished and they can’t access the health clinics and hospitals they really need to,” said Jeremy Hopkins, officiating Representative, UNICEF Yemen.

Since the conflict escalated in March, UNICEF and partners have managed to bring in essential medical and water, sanitation and hygiene supplies regularly, including surgical kits, syringes, medicines, hygiene kits and water purification tablets, to keep women and children alive. But all this is a drop in the ocean. Until the restrictions on commercial import of fuel and other food supplies that over 90 per cent of Yemenis depend on are lifted, millions on Yemenis are at risk of a humanitarian disaster, as health and hygiene facilities are fast shutting down.

Dr. Nashwan Al-Husami works at the Al-Thawra hospital in Taiz, a city that has seen increased fighting and civilian casualties in the past weeks.

“The Obstetrics and Gynaecology section is closed now, because we have a shortage of staff, mostly as a result of the near-daily bombings and fighting,” says the doctor.

“Thanks to UNICEF, we received basic medical supplies so the hospital continues to provide services to mothers and children.”

Back in Al-Sabeen hospital in Sana’a, Dr. Al-Maqtari and her colleagues gear up for another round of long hours at the partially functional operation theatre as the loudening wail of a siren announces another ambulance carrying more patients.