Doctors Without Borders warns of Covid-19 'catastrophe' in war-torn Yemen

The al-Kubi hospital in Aden, southern Yemen, pictured on May 17, 2020.
The al-Kubi hospital in Aden, southern Yemen, pictured on May 17, 2020. © Nabil Hasan, AFP

A coronavirus “catastrophe” is unfolding in Yemen, medical charity Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said on Thursday, warning that many of those infected with Covid-19 in the war-torn country never even make it to hospital.


The charity's main facility in the southern Yemeni city of Aden admitted 173 patients between April 30 and May 17, of whom at least 68 have died, Doctors Without Borders, also known by its French acronym MSF, said in a statement.

“What we are seeing in our treatment center is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the number of people infected and dying in the city,” said Caroline Seguin, the group’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,” she added.

Yemen's UN-recognised government based in the south has confirmed 180 cases nationwide, with just 29 fatalities. However, the government tally does not include confirmed cases in the country’s north, which is under the control of Houthi rebels backed by Iran.

The Houthis are believed to be concealing the magnitude of the coronavirus outbreak by suppressing numbers and intimidating journalists and doctors who might leak any information. So far, they have reported just four cases, including the death of one Somali migrant.

The Houthis took control of Yemen’s north and captured the capital Sanaa in 2014, forcing the UN-recognised government there to flee to Aden. Since 2015, a Saudi-led coalition of mostly Arab countries has been battling the Houthi rebels to reinstate the government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.

Victims 'much younger' than in the West

The increase in suspected coronavirus cases in Yemen is sounding alarms throughout the global health community, which fears the virus will spread like wildfire among some of the world’s most vulnerable populations.

The World Health Organization says its models suggest that, under some scenarios, half of Yemen’s population of 30 million could be infected with the virus and more than 40,000 could die.

Half of Yemen’s health facilities are dysfunctional and 18% of the country’s 333 districts have no doctors. Water and sanitation systems have collapsed. Many families can barely afford one meal a day.

“The high level of mortality we are seeing amongst our patients is equivalent to those of intensive care units in Europe, but the people we see dying are much younger than in France or Italy: mostly men between 40 and 60 years old,” said Seguin of  MSF.

The war in Yemen has killed more than 100,000 people, according to the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project, which tracks violence reports in Yemen. The war has also created the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, leaving millions suffering from food and medical shortages.

Infections among Iran health workers soar

In Iran, meanwhile, a report carried by semi-official news agencies, including ISNA, on Thursday said that more than 10,000 of the country’s health care workers have been infected with the coronavirus.

The report cited Deputy Health Minister Qassem Janbabaei, who did not elaborate. Reports earlier in the week had put the number of infected health care workers at only 800. Iran says more than 100 of those workers have died.

Iran on Thursday put the total number of dead from the virus at 7,249, or 66 more than Wednesday. Health Ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour said there were more than 129,000 confirmed cases of the virus, including 2,392 more than Wednesday.

Iran has the highest number of casualties from the disease in the region.

(FRANCE 24 with AP)


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