A week of heavy violence – urban warfare and renewed airstrikes – in Yemen coupled with a crippling blockade choking vital supplies into the country, are taking a severe toll on civilians.
Intense fighting in Sana’a paralysed the city, trapping civilians in their homes for several days, and blocked the injured from safe access to medical assistance. Clashes spread to other parts of the country, such as Hajjah, Amran and Ibb governorates.
Between 2-4 December MSF medical teams received 66 war-wounded patients at its two hospitals in Khamer and Houth and a third, Al Gamhouri hospital in Hajja city. Despite damage to Al Gamhouri hospital due to an earlier airstrike medical teams were able to receive casualties.
The clashes come as Yemen still reels from a crippling blockade on commercial and humanitarian imports, imposed by the Saudi-led Coalition on 6 November. While limited humanitarian imports are allowed it is scant respite for a country that is nearly 90% dependent on imports, and where roughly two thirds of the population depend on commercial goods. Since the surge in fighting and the blockade, fuel prices have increased over 200% and daily essentials like water and food are unaffordable.
“Because of the war, we can’t even afford to buy food anymore. There is food in the shops but no money to buy it,” says Fatima, the mother of a young cholera patient.
A 10kg bag of wheat in her village used to cost 4,000 YER (R217) – now it costs 9,000 YER (R489). Her husband used to earn 1,500 YER (R80) a day for work, but due to the fighting there are no jobs. To travel from their village to MSF’s cholera treatment centre the family had to borrow 30,000 YER (R1,630).
“The blockade and recent fighting have had a devastating knock-on effect on the medical mission in Yemen. The increased cost of fuel, means that people must pay more for transport to hospitals – or choose between going to hospital and buying food for the rest of their families. Hospitals are themselves struggling to afford the costs of fuel, which may prompt some of the few remaining functional hospitals to close,” explains Djoen Besselink, MSF’s head of mission in Yemen.
“The destruction and dismantling of Yemen’s health services have been a hallmark of the conflict over the past two and a half years. The blockade is significantly contributing to this, and must be lifted immediately. Commercial ships and planes must be allowed into ports of entry in the north to prevent more needless suffering.”
Today, we share with you:
A Press Release summarising the dire situation in Yemen due to the fighting and the ongoing blockade (BELOW)
A short feature story detailing the intense struggles Fatima and her husband faced getting their sick their 18-month-old son to an MSF-run cholera treatment centre (BELOW + PHOTO)
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YEMEN: INTENSE FIGHTING AND BLOCKADE FURTHER REDUCES ACCESS TO HEALTHCARE
Sana’a/Hajjah – A week of heavy violence, coupled with a crippling blockade preventing vital supplies into the country, shows new levels of disregard by warring parties for the civilian population, medical facilities and patients, says the international medical organisation Doctors Without Borders (MSF).
Heavy street fighting and renewed airstrikes since 29 November have paralysed Sana’a, with civilians trapped in their homes for several days, and have left the injured without safe access to medical assistance. Medical teams using ambulances to try and retrieve the injured reportedly came under fire. Hundreds of people are reported to have been killed. Although MSF has not received the necessary guarantees from parties to the conflict to move inside Sana’a, it has been able to make medical donations to hospitals in the city.
Clashes spread to other parts of the country, such as Hajjah, Amran and Ibb governorates. On 2 December, MSF received 28 war-wounded patients at its two hospitals in Khamer and Houth. In the early hours of 4 December, an airstrike damaged the MSF-supported Al Gamhouri hospital in Hajjah city. The emergency room, operating theatre and intensive care unit were damaged and 12 ER patients were evacuated. Despite the damage, Al Gamhouri hospital received 22 casualties from the airstrikes in Hajjah shortly after. Al Gamhouri also received a total of 38 war-wounded patients between 2 and 3 December.
“Health services have been repeatedly attacked over the course of this conflict. Yet again warring parties are not taking measures to spare medical facilities, endangering the lives of patients and medical staff,” says Steve Purbrick, MSF Field Coordinator in Hajjah. “Civilians must be able to flee or seek medical care, ambulances must be allowed to reach the injured and hospitals must be protected”.
The clashes come as Yemen still reels from a crippling blockade on commercial and humanitarian imports, imposed by the Saudi-led Coalition on 6 November. Although some humanitarian flights and ships have now been allowed into Yemen again, the blockade is still in place for commercial imports of goods including food and fuel. For Yemenis, this has placed a significant additional strain on access to basic goods, medicine and medical supplies. Since the escalation of the fighting and imposition of the blockade, fuel prices have increased over 200%, and prices of daily essentials like water and food have also risen dramatically. In the city of Saada, food prices rose by about 6.15% between October and November.
“The blockade and recent fighting have had a devastating knock-on effect on the medical mission in Yemen,” says Djoen Besselink, head of mission for MSF. “The increased cost of fuel, for example, means that people must pay more for transport to hospitals, or choose between going to hospital and buying food for the rest of their families. Hospitals are themselves struggling to afford the costs of fuel, which may prompt some of the few remaining functional hospitals to close.”
Besselink adds: “The destruction and dismantling of Yemen’s health services have been a hallmark of the conflict over the past two and a half years. The blockade is significantly contributing to this, and must be lifted immediately. Commercial ships and planes must be allowed into ports of entry in the north to prevent more needless suffering.”
Note to editors: MSF works in 13 hospitals and health centres in Yemen and provides support to more than 20 hospitals or health centres across 12 Yemeni governorates: Taiz, Aden, Al-Dhale’, Saada, Amran, Hajjah, Ibb, Sana’a, Hodaida, Abyan, Shabwa and Lahj, with nearly 1,600 staff making it among MSF´s largest missions in the world in terms of personnel.
COUNTING THE COST OF YEMEN’S BLOCKADE: “There is food in the shops but no money to buy it”
Fatima sits on the bed next to her 18-month-old son Ishaq, her legs bent under her chin in front of her. They arrived the day before to the cholera treatment centre (CTC) operated by MSF in Al Qaeda city, Ibb governorate, after a four-hour journey from Shokan, a village located in Mawia district, in Taiz governorate.
“He fell ill three days ago,” she says, gesturing towards Ishaq, “but at first we were hoping he’d get better so we waited.” After two days, the boy’s diarrhoea and vomiting persisted, so his parents borrowed 9,800 YER (R534) from a neighbour to cover the transportation costs to a private pharmacy near their village. “They gave him an injection and we went home.” The next morning, as Ishaq’s health showed no sign of improvement, a neighbour advised Fatima to take her son to Al Qaeda city, where he had heard that Médecins Sans Frontières was providing cholera-related care free of charge. “We didn’t come the first day because we didn’t have money to pay for the trip. We had already borrowed money from a neighbour to go to the pharmacy, so no one wanted to lend us money anymore. But my husband convinced them.”
To get to the CTC, Fatima’s husband had to borrow an additional 30,000 YER (R1630). “We paid 20,000 YER (R1,090) for the private car and 10,000 YER (R545) extra for fuel, because of the shortages.” She hopes her son will be discharged today because every day the price of the fuel increases, and so too do the debts she will incur to pay for the journey home.
As a daily worker, Fatima’s husband used to earn 1,500 YER (R80) a day. But he no longer finds work every day. “Because of the war, people have no money so they don’t give him jobs.” To pay back some of the money they borrowed, Fatima is considering selling the family’s two goats, which could bring in approximately 13,000 YER (R709).
“Because of the war, we can’t even afford to buy food anymore. There is food in the shops but no money to buy it.” According to her, a 10kg bag of wheat in her village used to cost 4,000 YER (R217) - now it costs 9,000 YER (R489).
Besides cholera, Ishaq already suffers from moderate acute malnutrition – a condition which does not necessarily imply hospitalization but would require him to receive supplementary feeding every two weeks for a few months. Upon discharge from the CTC, Ishaq will be registered in the nutritional program of Al Qaeda Hospital’s outpatient department and receive treatment for 14 days. But given the high transportation costs, it is unlikely that his parents will be able to bring him and without proper follow-up, his condition will deteriorate.