Communities who have had to leave their homes to keep their families safe from the conflict in Yemen are now facing a new, deadly threat.
The coronavirus pandemic is now affecting all aspects of life in Yemen. Yemenis are already suffering from malnutrition. Many people, especially children, are underweight, and respiratory tract infections, malaria and dengue fever are common.
“We have a weakened immune system,” explains Dr Samar Kanzel, Action Against Hunger’s Deputy Programme Manager. “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 access to food 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 Yemenis have reacted to coronavirus
In Yemen, it’s believed many people become infected and die 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 recorded, people started to realise that Yemen had open land borders with neighbouring countries. Trucks gained access, and infected drivers could have helped spread the virus.
Action Against Hunger’s response in Yemen
Despite access restrictions in the country, our 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.
Setting up mobile clinics to treat vulnerable people
Another way we’re helping to stop the spread of coronavirus in Yemen is through mobile clinics. With no health units nearby, vulnerable communities often struggle to access the support they need – so mobile clinics allow us to meet them where they are.
“The situation here is getting worse,” says Bahaa, a member of our team in Yemen. “This is due to the many problems that our country is suffering from, including poverty and conflict.”
“Because of the spread of diseases, people need extra medical care, especially for cases of blood pressures, diabetes and heart problems.”
In Abyan province, many people work on nearby farms with only a basic daily wage. This has led to widespread malnutrition as people are unable to afford enough food for a healthy diet. There are also many displaced people living here.
“People in this area live in extreme poverty,” says Entisar, a nutrition officer. “You can see the situation with your own eyes. Assistance has stopped and there is a big lack of food, which has a major impact on the children.”
However, people in the local community have seen a big improvement since we set up our mobile clinics.
“We try to prepare for diseases as much as possible and protect ourselves,” says Muna who lives in the local area. “When the children go out and come back, they wash their hands,”
“When one of my children gets sick, my only choice is to come to this clinic and get treatment. I came today because my daughter has diarrhoea and vomiting. We are being given nutrients and medication.”