The Edition


Yemen faces coronavirus catastrophe, says MSF

21 May 2020, MVT 22:24
A man walks while clad in mask due to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic along an alley at an open-air market in Yemen's capital Sanaa on May 20, 2020, as Muslims shop ahead of the Eid al-Fitr holiday marking the end of the holy fasting month of Ramadan. (Photo by Mohammed HUWAIS / AFP)
21 May 2020, MVT 22:24

Six years of war have wrecked Yemen's health system and left it facing a "catastrophe" from the coronavirus pandemic, international medical charity Doctors Without Borders (MSF) warned on Thursday.

Dozens have already died in the government's interim capital Aden, according to MSF, even though the country has officially registered fewer than 200 cases and 30 deaths.

The city, which is home to 550,000 people, has taken virtually no preventive measures and there are no quarantine facilities for those who test positive.

Yemen's health system has all but collapsed since fighting broke out in 2014, with more than two-thirds of the population dependent on aid for survival, according to the United Nations.

MSF said the number of patients being admitted to its Aden treatment centre -- the only dedicated COVID-19 facility in the whole of southern Yemen -- "speaks to a wider catastrophe unfolding in the city".

In the first half of May, MSF said at least 68 virus patients had died -- more than double the official figure for the entire country since the start of the pandemic.

"Many patients are arriving at the centre already suffering from acute respiratory distress syndrome, making it hard to save their lives and suggesting that many more people are sick at home," MSF said.

The charity added that burial statistics suggested as many 80 people had been dying in Aden every day for the past week, up from a pre-outbreak rate of 10.

Health sources have told AFP that many doctors in Aden have deserted their posts because of a lack of access to protective gear.

"What we are seeing in our treatment centre is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the number of people infected and dying in the city," said Caroline Seguin, MSF's operations manager for Yemen.

"People are coming to us too late to save, and we know that many more people are not coming at all: they are just dying at home. It is a heart-breaking situation."

She said the United Nations and donor states had to do more -- including finding a way to mobilise health workers and get supplies of protective equipment.

The government, backed by a Saudi-led coalition, is fighting Huthi rebels supported by Iran in a conflict that has killed tens of thousands -- triggering what the UN has termed the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

The Huthis stormed the capital Sanaa in September 2014 and Aden was set up as the government's interim seat months later.

But tensions between the central government and another group of rebels in the south have further muddied the waters, with the self-proclaimed Southern Transitional Council declaring self-rule on April 26.

Geneva, Switzerland | AFP