MSF Warns of Coronavirus Catastrophe in Yemen

  • “What we are seeing in our treatment centre is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the number of people infected and dying in the city.”
  • Before the arrival of COVID-19, Aden was suffering from a very fragile health care system due to the five-year war in Yemen.
  • Elsewhere, COVID-19 cases are skyrocketing in Latin America, and Brazil in particular.

Doctors Without Borders (MSF) is warning of a coronavirus “catastrophe” unfolding in Yemen. The death toll at the COVID-19 patient treatment center owned by MSF in Aden, southern Yemen, reveals that “the UN and donor states need to do more urgently to help the response,” it says.

Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), sometimes rendered in English as Doctors Without Borders, is an international humanitarian medical non-governmental organisation (NGO) of French origin best known for its projects in conflict zones and in countries affected by endemic diseases. Médecins Sans Frontières was founded in 1971, in the aftermath of the Biafra secession, by a small group of French doctors and journalists who sought to expand accessibility to medical care across national boundaries and irrespective of race, religion, creed or political affiliation.

The organization added, in a press statement, that it had “received since the 30th of last April, to the 17th of May, 173 patients, at least 68 of whom have died.” MSF explained that many patients arrived at the center with severe respiratory distress syndrome, “which makes saving their lives a difficult task, and indicates that in their homes other patients were affected.”

“What we are seeing in our treatment centre is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the number of people infected and dying in the city,” said Caroline Seguin, MSF’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. It is a heart-breaking situation.”

“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,” she added. The press release stated that government burial statistics show that many people die in their homes.

It also revealed that 80 people died every day in the city during the past week, after the usual rate in the period before the spread of the disease was 10 deaths per day. Another indicator of the extent of the disease is the number of healthcare professionals providing treatment at the center, along with a large number of patients.

The statement stressed that the United Nations and donor countries need to make more efforts immediately, not only for the sake of Aden, but for the sake of all of Yemen. The money must be secured to pay the wages of health care workers, and they must be provided with the personal protective equipment needed to keep them safe, MSF added.

The statement also said that the country is in urgent need of more oxygen concentrators to help patients breathe. It is noteworthy that, before the arrival of COVID-19, Aden was suffering from a very fragile health care system due to the five-year war in Yemen, while the authorities lacked the means to properly respond to the pandemic. Yemen registered the first confirmed case of coronavirus infection on April 10, in Hadramout Governorate, in the east of the country.

The Yemeni Civil War is an ongoing conflict that began in 2015 between two factions: the Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi-led Yemeni government and the Houthi armed movement, along with their supporters and allies. Both claim to constitute the official government of Yemen.

In its statement, Doctors Without Borders said that poor ability to perform tests made it difficult to determine the exact numbers, but patients who died were clearly infected with Covid-19 symptoms.

Aden is under the control of separatists, who advocate independence for the south of the country, which was a separate country before unification in 1990. The city does not have an effective social divergence policy against the virus, and there are no testing centers and quarantine sites for patients.

On the global level of the spread of the Coronavirus, the French News Agency (AFP) published a report that revealed that the number of cases of Covid-19 in the world had doubled within a month, to reach at least five million. The spread of infection is accelerating in Latin America in particular, according to data collected by AFP from official sources.

In Brazil, infections have been increased significantly (291,579 cases), with figures doubling in nine days. In Peru (104,020), Mexico (56,594), and Chile (53,617), cases have also skyrocketed.  The epidemic has killed at least 328,220 people worldwide since its appearance at the end of last year in China, according to an AFP tally based on official sources Thursday.

More than 5.2 million cases were were officially recorded in 196 countries and regions.  The United States is the country most affected by mortality (93,439) and infections (1,550,000), followed by the United Kingdom (35,704), Italy (32,330), France (28,132) and Spain (27,888).

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Benedict Kasigara

I have been working as a freelance editor/writer since 2006. My specialist subject is film and television having worked for over 10 years from 2005 during which time I was the editor of the BFI Film and Television.

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