When Abdulla Bin Ghooth saw the computed tomography scan of the lungs of a colleague’s brother in Aden, Yemen, in April, he knew the outlook was grim. The 55-year-old man had complained of a fever and shortness of breath, and likely had COVID-19. But hospital staff, afraid of the novel coronavirus, sent him home with an oxygen cylinder, says Bin Ghooth, an epidemiologist at Hadhramout University College of Medicine. He pleaded with friends at the ministry of health to intervene, to no avail. The colleague’s brother was never tested for COVID-19 and died at home 3 days later.
Perhaps no country is more vulnerable to COVID-19’s depredations than Yemen. Even before the virus’ arrival, the country was grappling with “the largest humanitarian crisis in the world,” as a result of a civil war now grinding into its sixth year, says Jens Laerke, a spokesperson at the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Yemen has 3.6 million internally displaced people, scores of attacks have left half of the nation’s medical facilities in tatters, and a cholera outbreak has sickened some 2.3 million Yemenis, killing nearly 4000. The United Nations classifies nearly one-quarter of the population of 30 million as malnourished.
And now, after staging massive aid operations in Yemen over the past few years, the United Nations is running out of cash as donations from member countries—busy battling COVID-19 on their own turf—dry up. “Tragically, we do not have enough money to continue” the relief work, the heads of the World Health Organization (WHO), UNICEF, and other U.N. agencies write in an urgent call to donors issued today. “COVID-19 could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back,” says Abdulwahed Al-Serouri, technical adviser to the Yemen Field Epidemiology Training Program run by the health ministry in Aden.
The United Nations and Saudi Arabia are cohosting a virtual pledging event on 2 June. If that fails to drum up support, Laerke warns, “The world will have to witness what happens in a country without a functioning health system battling COVID-19. I don’t think we’ll want to see that.” [Continue reading…]