Yemen’s war-ravaged hospitals overwhelmed

In the pediatric oncology ward of a public hospital in Aden, in southern Yemen, Amina waits in a dilapidated ward between dilapidated beds that smell of urine for a little girl who is paying for the war that is ravaging his country.

At Al-Sadaqah Hospital, a five-year-old child who has been treated for leukemia for two months keeps his toys close to him.

In the poorest country in the Arabian Peninsula, which has experienced one of the worst humanitarian tragedies in the world, his family is forced to rely on a failed public service.

“We had no choice,” his mother, Anissa Nasser, told AFP. “We wanted to send him abroad for treatment,” but she says they couldn’t afford it. She is unemployed, and her husband, who lives in neighboring oil-rich Saudi Arabia, has been out of work for four years.

Chemotherapy sessions are free at the state hospital, but Amina’s family has to manage to get the necessary medicines and take tests in other institutions.

Aden became the temporary capital of Yemen, where the government settled after being expelled from Sana’a in 2014 by the Houthis, rebels close to Iran. A Saudi-led military coalition that includes the United Arab Emirates has been intervening since 2015 to support loyalist forces.

A doctor examines a premature baby in an incubator at Al-Sadaqa hospital in southern Yemen on February 26, 2022. (AFP – Saleh Obaydi)

As a result of the devastating fighting, hundreds of thousands of people died and millions were displaced. Many of Yemen’s estimated 30 million people face hunger and disease.

More than three-quarters of the population is dependent on humanitarian aid, and international funding is increasingly in short supply.

– “Gap” –

In Aden, public hospitals suffer from a shortage of equipment and staff, doctors and nurses prefer to work in private clinics or international organizations with better salaries, the country’s economy has collapsed due to the war.

With the support of the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the malnutrition unit at Al-Sadaqah Hospital appears to be in better shape. At a year and a half, Nuf is being treated for severe acute malnutrition in one of the rooms, her aunt is standing next to her.

A man with legs amputated at the entrance to the Al Jumhuriya hospital, next to a plaque commemorating that Queen Elizabeth II laid the first stone there, March 2, 2022 in Aden, Yemen (AFP - Saleh OBAYDI)
A man with legs amputated at the entrance to the Al Jumhuriya hospital, next to a plaque commemorating that Queen Elizabeth II laid the first stone there, March 2, 2022 in Aden, Yemen (AFP – Saleh OBAYDI)

International organizations help certain departments of the hospital by paying for electricity, maintaining hygiene, or paying bonuses to medical staff. Due to Covid-19, Al-Sadaqa Hospital, like others, had to cut budgets for non-pandemic services.

The director general of Kafaya Al-Jazei hospital recognizes a kind of “gap between different services”. “If there is support from an international organization (in the section), all employees will want to work there in order to improve their living conditions,” she told AFP.

In a 2021 report, the World Bank estimated that only half of Yemen’s healthcare facilities are fully operational and that more than 80% of the population still face great difficulty in accessing food, water, drinking water and health services.

– “Stay here” –

At the entrance to Al Jumhuria, another public hospital in Aden, a plaque commemorates that Queen Elizabeth II laid the first stone there. Today, the facility also lacks staff, supplies, and basic equipment.

“The hospital is not maintained or air conditioned. Water leaks in bathrooms. The building is old and dilapidated,” Zubeida Said, a 52-year-old nurse, told AFP.

Al-Jumhuriya Hospital in Aden, South Yemen, March 2, 2022 (AFP - Saleh Obaydi)
Al-Jumhuriya Hospital in Aden, South Yemen, March 2, 2022 (AFP – Saleh Obaydi)

Complaining about low wages and a lack of leadership, employees demonstrated several times to denounce the “deplorable” state of the institution, according to its acting head, Dr. Salem Al-Chabha.

According to him, the budget of the hospital has not changed since the beginning of the war, despite the growing needs. Due to the lack of general practitioners at the hospital, “medical students are hired and work for 10,000 riyals (about nine euros) a day,” Salem Al-Chabhi explains.

Across from the hospital, a new rally of medical students knows what’s in store for them. Some hope to emigrate, others seek to work in international organizations.

This is the case of Eyad Khaled. “We need a job that pays well and is in a safe place,” a student who is about to graduate told AFP.

Heba Ebadi wants to stay and specialize in gynecology, “even as the healthcare system deteriorates.” “We want to help people here,” she said. “To whom shall we leave them? We must stay here!”

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