Ravaged by five years of war, Yemen fears the arrival of the coronavirus

Volunteer disinfecting garbage in Sanaa, March 30, 2020. MOHAMMED HUWAIS / AFP

Text by: Murielle Paradon Follow

In Yemen, no case of Covid-19 has yet been officially identified. But the country is preparing for the worst, when the health system is very weak and the humanitarian situation is already catastrophic.


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As the coronavirus pandemic hits the world, the war in Yemen continues to be played behind closed doors . Bombings still struck, Monday, March 30, the capital Sanaa, held since late 2014 by Houthi rebels.

Raids by Saudi Arabia, which leads a coalition in support of the Yemeni government, took place two days after the interception of missiles launched by the Houthis in the skies of Ryad.

An already bloodless health system

However, the parties to the conflict had recently committed to entering a truce to deal with the probable arrival of the Covid-19 epidemic, which is already affecting the region strongly. " How can we prepare for such an epidemic if the bombs continue to fall on Sanaa? "Deplores Mohammed Alshamaa of the NGO Save the Children, joined to Sanaa. The health system is already exhausted, ravaged by five years of war.

Much of the health infrastructure has been destroyed, and those that are still standing are already facing many diseases, such as dengue fever and regular cholera epidemics, not to mention malnutrition. In the event of the appearance of Covid-19, " children could no longer have access to their treatments in the hospital and they badly need them ", worries Mohammed Alshamaa already.

Very few tests and a cruel lack of medical equipment

Officially, no case of new coronavirus has been identified in Yemen, but only 45 tests on suspicious cases have been carried out, according to Dr Abdulhakim Alkohlani, epidemiologist and spokesperson for the Technical Committee to Combat Covid-19, attached in Sanaa. And these tests turned out to be negative.

According to this doctor, screening is very difficult because only a few hundred PCR (biological) tests are available in Yemen, either in the north (Sanaa) held by the Houthi rebels or in the south (Aden) controlled by government forces . The World Health Organization is committed to providing more tests, as well as respirators and protective equipment for health workers, which are sorely needed.

But the routing of equipment remains complicated, because of the blockade which strikes this country at war. In the north, the Houthis also closed Sana'a airport, which was already used only for United Nations flights and the delivery of humanitarian aid. As a preventive measure, the rebels also closed schools.

It is also difficult to make the population, one of the poorest in the world, aware of the famous barrier gestures against the coronavirus. How do you learn to wash your hands when you don't even have access to clean water? " We must focus on informing the populations and distributing hygiene kits ," replies Mohammed Alshamaa of the NGO Save the Children.

In Aden, fear has gripped the population

In Aden, to the south, the situation is also worrying. " Fear has gripped the population, some hospital directors have been threatened with death if they received patients from Covid-19, " said Caroline Seguin, head of the Middle East program at Doctors Without Borders, who of the teams present in Yemen. " Everyone confuses corona and ebola !" “, Regrets the manager. Suddenly, the NGO is working on the installation of a specific center outside the city of Aden, to receive patients who would be affected by Covid-19.

In Aden, in addition to the lack of infrastructure and health facilities, “ it is difficult to establish strategies to deal with the arrival of the virus, in the absence of authorities on the spot. The region is under government control, but most of the ministers live in exile in Saudi Arabia, said Caroline Seguin.

In a country at war, which depends 80% on humanitarian aid, and whose health system is partially destroyed, the arrival of the coronavirus would have devastating effects. Thus, " 70% of the population or 21 million people could be affected, " predicts Dr. Abdulhakim Alkohlani.

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  • Yemen
  • Coronavirus
  • Saudi Arabia

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