7-year-old girl in an IDP camp in Yemen where she lacks food, water, toilets and access to healthcare

Yemen: Dealing with Covid-19

Action Against Hunger’s Deputy Programme Manager, Dr. Samar Kanzel, explains the impact the coronavirus pandemic will have on healthcare systems and food security in the war-torn country.  

By Action Against Hunger

Jul 21 2020

Years of conflict and fighting make countries like Yemen more vulnerable to diseases like coronavirus.

Communities who have already had to leave everything behind to keep their families safe are now facing a new, silent threat. For Yemen, coping with Covid-19 with a crumbling health system will be difficult, with the country facing a very high mortality rate of 20%. We spoke to Dr. Samar Kanzel, our Deputy Programme Manager in Yemen, about how Action Against Hunger is responding to the threat of coronavirus in Yemen.

Coronavirus concerns in Yemen

The new pandemic is now affecting all aspects of life in Yemen. Yemenis are already suffering from malnutrition, many people are underweight, and respiratory tract infections, malaria and dengue fever are common.

“We have a weakened immune system,” explains Dr Samar. “The Covid-19 outbreak in the country layers a new emergency on top of an emergency; it puts us at higher risk of illness and lowers the body’s ability to fight diseases.”

People infected with Covid-19, are unable to gain essential access to treatment due to a lack of hospital beds in the country. Most people could treat symptoms at home, but can’t afford to.  

“Many people are not getting treatment simply because they don’t have the financial means, not because they are not familiar with the process or treatment protocol,” says Dr Samar.

The financial barriers and lack of access to healthcare is making an already critical situation worse.

Covid-19 and the impact on food security in Yemen.

The pandemic has also caused concerns around a worsening food crisis in Yemen. With many people losing their jobs, families are struggling with no income.

“Daily-wage workers suddenly became jobless with no income,” explains Dr. Samar. “They are struggling to make ends meet.”

The cost of living in Yemen has significantly increased as a result of the ongoing war. Communities are dealing with inflation, the depreciation of their currency (the Yemeni riyal), and the increased price of goods.

“We already had a crisis here well before coronavirus, so you can imagine what the situation is like now,” says Dr Samar. “The already dire situation is likely to deteriorate considerably,” he continues.

How Yemeni citizens have reacted to Covid-19

In Yemen, it’s believed many people became infected and died from the virus before any official announcement from the Ministry of Health.

“We could not expect citizens to be aware or even believe that coronavirus was real,” says Dr. Samar. “Even though doctors issued warnings, people just ignored them until the Ministry officially reported the first Covid-19 victim,” he continued.

With air, land and sea travel completely suspended in the country, Yemenis felt that an outbreak in the country was unlikely. However, as more cases were being recorded, people started to realise that Yemen had open land borders with neighbouring countries. Trucks were given access, and drivers infected with the virus could have helped spread the virus.

Action Against Hunger’s response in Yemen

Despite restrictions of movement in the North and South of the country, our Action Against Hunger teams continue to provide life-saving aid in the country, treating children with malnutrition. We’ve also provided our teams on the ground with the specific information they need on protection against the virus.

“We’ve launched awareness-raising campaigns, and trained all healthcare workers along with our Action Against Hunger staff,” explains Dr.Samar. 

By training healthcare workers and our teams, we hope the message will spread through their families, and to relatives and neighbours.

Our staff are also spreading the message by travelling to communities, using visual guides, and implementing door-to-door awareness raising campaigns.

“Our volunteers visit rural homes and go to remote areas to meet different households,” explains Dr. Samar. “They make sure these meetings are held outside in open spaces where they talk about the coronavirus and how to stay safe,” he continues.

As well as awareness raising campaigns, we’ve also taken steps to reduce coronavirus by installing handwashing stations, and improving the water supply in the country.

Yemen’s already devastated health system is now under enormous strain because of this new pandemic.

“As humanitarian workers, we want to help, but our hands are tied,” says Dr Samar.

As part of the DEC’s 14 member charities, we’re well-placed to respond to the coronavirus pandemic in fragile countries like Yemen, but we need your help. People who have suffered so much need your help now more than ever to face this new threat.

DEC appeal

Millions of lives are at risk as Covid-19 hits refugee camps and conflict-scarred countries like Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen.

Photos: Alaa Aldwaley/Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC)