4 billion dollars spent by Yemeni patients abroad

National Yemen

al-salam hospital photo by MSF Malak Shaher

By: Tahani al-Sabri

Traveling abroad for medical treatment is considered one of the biggest problems facing Yemenis. Yemenis suffer a great deal when dealing with doctors, leading to the further loss of trust between providers and patients. More than 280 000 Yemeni patients travel abroad for treatment annually, with Egypt and Jordan being the most popular destinations.

Last year, Cairo received 200 000 Yemeni patients, while Jordan received 45 000. Treatment costs run from $400 to $700 million annually, with patients arriving on two daily flights to Egypt in particular, where individual treatments range from $2000 to $3000 each. Most cases are due to kidney disease, cancer, cardiac surgery, liver transplants, and issues with bones and blood vessels.

Abdul Karim al-Koubati, a professor in Sharia and Law at Sana’a University, narrated his painful story to get this treatment.

“The suffering started after I learned that I had a tumor on my kidney. The tumor has gotten bigger and bigger. The doctors diagnosed it as cancerous and they eradicated it. After a year, I started to feel pain in my bones, so I went to the doctors again. I was running between clinics in order to find treatment and the reason behind the pain. I have visited many famous doctors’ clinics in Yemen, and have spent over a year and a half.”

He went on to say that he was diagnosed with cancer, and even underwent chemotherapy, before traveling to Egypt, where he learned that he actually had arthritis. Similar mistreatment was echoed by Mohammed al-Damari, who told National Yemen that he underwent intense treatment, and went deeply in debt to travel abroad, before learning that his laboratory test results were mixed up.

“I lose my trust in Yemeni laboratory centers and doctors.”

And results are not always positive. Last year, Minister of Health and the Public Dr. Ahmed al-Ansi said that 388 Yemenis died in Egyptian hospitals, while 180 cases were forwarded to Egypt from al-Thawra Hospital. He added that the main reason for traveling abroad was mistrust in Yemeni doctors and medicine.

Dr. Abdul Kafi Shoja’a El-Din, a professor in the Faculty of Medicine at Sana’a University, said that the phenomenon also harms the Yemeni economy.

“The government should pay more attention to this, thousands of patients are spending millions of dollars while the country needs it to support the national economy, rather than the economies of other countries.”

He added that some senior officials and notables in the country have played a role in fermenting inaccurate mistrust about Yemen’s medical sectors. While there are problems, in his opinion the media contributes to an atmosphere that overstates these mistakes as though they were commonplace, without showing the positives.