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Coronavirus vaccine 'will come from Yemen', Houthi health minister claims

The health minister received applause during the announcement in Sanaa [Getty]

Date of publication: 31 May, 2020

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The much-anticipated Covid-19 vaccine will emerge from Yemen's Houthis, the rebels' health minister vowed this week.
Yemen's Houthi rebels vowed to create a vaccine for the novel Covid-19 virus, which has infected and killed large numbers across the war-torn country.

Speaking to health professionals and government officials, the Houthis' Minister of Health Taha Al-Mutawakkel alleged the rebels had progressed with "promising" research that would soon be used to create the much-anticipated vaccine.

"God willing and with the capabilities of our doctors, pharmacists, and laboratory colleagues, we are conducting extensive research and the corona[virus] drug will come from Yemen," Al-Mutawakkel said during the meeting in the rebel-held capital Sanaa.

"There is extensive and promising research and studies - and I stress on the word 'promising'," the health minister said.

"The treatment will come from Yemen," he added, only to be met with applause from multiple Houthi ministers and health workers in attendance, according to a clip that emerged online.

The United Nations says Covid-19 has likely already spread throughout most of Yemen, which was already immersed in the world's worst humanitarian crisis because of a war that shows no sign of abating.

Officially, 50 people have died from the new coronavirus in Yemen and infections have been reported in 10 of the country's 22 governorates. However, thousands of deaths have been reported across the country, with local journalists, activists and social media users confirming coronavirus-like symptoms striking civilians.

Yemen's authorities, including the Houthi rebels who control the capital Sanaa and other major northern cities, have been accused of underreporting the true number of infections and deaths to conceal the extent of the outbreak in the country.

In Aden last week, Doctors Without Borders said "as many as 80 people have been dying in the city per day during the past week, up from a pre-outbreak normal of 10".

On Thursday, the UN humanitarian chief urgently appealed for $2.4 billion to help millions of people in Yemen cope with the conflict and coronavirus, saying programs are already being cut and the situation is "alarming". 

Mark Lowcock and the heads of 10 other UN agencies and several U.N. officials and humanitarian organisations issued a joint statement Thursday saying: "Covid-19 is spreading rapidly across the country already experiencing the world's largest humanitarian crisis."

"Tragically, we do not have enough money to continue this work," they said. "Of 41 major UN programs in Yemen, more than 30 will close in the next few weeks if we cannot secure additional funds."

"This means many more people will die," they warned.

The 17 signatories said they have the skills, staff and capacity to meet the difficult challenges of delivering aid in Yemen but no money and time is running out.

Henrietta Fore, head of the UN children's agency UNICEF and one of the signatories, told the briefing that its funding is very low and urged donors to be generous.

Read also: Yemen gravediggers overwhelmed amid spike in suspected coronavirus deaths

More than 12 million children across Yemen need humanitarian assistance and nearly half a million require treatment for severe acute malnutrition and "could die if they do not receive urgent care,” she said.

"We are confronting a crisis on top of a crisis – a pandemic on top of a brutal conflict," she warned. "Today, the pandemic is pushing Yemen even closer to the brink of collapse."

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