Doctors Fighting the Coronavirus ’Catastrophe’ In Yemen Are Begging For UN Support
By Claudia Farhart, Nick Houghton – SBS News
Medical teams fighting the coronavirus outbreak in Yemen are pleading with the international community for support, saying people will continue to die if healthcare workers cannot access basic supplies.
In Yemen's temporary capital Aden, Doctors without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières [MSF] is running the only dedicated COVID-19 treatment center in southern Yemen.
Yemen has only reported 233 coronavirus cases, but MSF's deputy program manager for Yemen, Marc Schakal, told SBS News that number was likely only "the tip of the iceberg."
"We have seen a 30 per cent mortality rate in our center, which is alarming, and those people are arriving late with already severe symptoms, so we are afraid some people are affected and are probably dying without being detected," he said.
"We have also seen the number of burials increasing in the city, so we don't want to draw any quick conclusion out of that, but the figures explain what could be happening within the communities."
MSF's center in Aden has admitted 173 patients since 30 April, with 68 losing their fight to COVID-19.
Following five years of war, Yemen's healthcare system is not equipped to handle a significant coronavirus outbreak.
MSF is urging the United Nations and its donor states to help them avoid a catastrophe in Yemen.
They say they are running out of money to fund healthcare workers and their personal protective equipment and medical supplies as well as oxygen concentrators to help sick patients breathe.
Mr. Schakal said the lack of hands on deck and medical supplies was putting huge pressure on MSF's local team.
"It's very difficult for our clinicians to see people dying and to do everything they can, 24 hours a day," he said.
"With such a high mortality, they are facing some very difficult clinical decisions to make, and it's a very stressful environment."
Meanwhile, Australians with family in Yemen are urging the federal government to help get them to safety amid the worsening pandemic and the ongoing war.
MSF's plea comes as the UN warns a range of its aid programs in Yemen could soon be cut due to funding shortages ahead of a donor conference on 2 June.
The UN has estimated it would take $2 billion in funding to keep Yemen's programs running for the rest of 2020, with only $677 million donated so far this year.
With more than $4 billion donated for Yemen last year, the UN says the COVID-19 pandemic has put the country "on the brink".
MSF's operations manager for Yemen, Caroline Seguin, said one of the most alarming things about the country's COVID-19 outbreak was how few people were seeking medical attention.
"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 heartbreaking situation," she said.
"We are doing all that we can, but we cannot face this virus alone. It would be unconscionable for the world to just leave Aden and the rest of Yemen to face this crisis by themselves."