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The New Arab Staff & Agencies

Covid-19 overwhelms Yemen and urgent aid needed: MSF

The Covid-19 numbers are continuing to rise [Getty]

Date of publication: 27 March, 2021

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War-torn Yemen is battling a rising number of Covid-19 cases, rights groups warn, as authorities declare a state of emergency.
Doctors Without Borders (MSF) warned on Saturday that the number of critically Covid-19 patients was rising across war-wracked Yemen, urging assistance from donor countries and specialised groups.

"Medecins Sans Frontieres is seeing a dramatic influx of critically ill Covid-19 patients requiring hospitalisation in Aden, Yemen, and many other parts of the country," MSF said on Twitter.

"We are urging all medical humanitarian organisations already present in Yemen to rapidly scale up their Covid-19 emergency response," said Raphael Veicht, MSF head of mission in the country.

The southern port city of Aden is Yemen's de facto capital, where the internationally recognised government is based after being routed from Sanaa in the north by Houthi rebels.

A Saudi-led military coalition intervened in 2015 to shore up the government, and since then the conflict has killed tens of thousands of people, mostly civilians, and displaced millions.

Already an impoverished country, six years of war in Yemen has battered the economy and left its healthcare system in ruins.

The United Nations calls the situation there the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

"All aspects of the Covid-19 response are lacking and need greater international support, from public health messaging, to vaccinations to oxygen therapy," said Veicht.

"Support is needed across the board," he pleaded, including from "international donors who cut their humanitarian funding to Yemen".

Early this month, the United Nations tried to raise $3.85 billion from more than 100 governments and donors, but only $1.7 billion was offered.

MSF said Yemeni hospitals are facing a "critically low supply of oxygen to treat patients".

"Unfortunately, many of the patients we see are already in a critical condition when they arrive," said MSF medical coordinator Line Lootens.

Yemen has officially recorded some 3,900 virus cases among its 30 million population, including 820 deaths - but experts say the real toll could be higher.

On Tuesday, Yemen's coronavirus committee urged the government to declare a public health "state of emergency" amid a surge in infections, with around 100 cases reported daily this week.

The committee is linked to the Saudi-backed government, which has been battling Iran-backed Houthi rebels since 2014.

Read also: Yemen coronavirus committee calls for 'state of emergency'

It called on the government to "declare a (public) health state of emergency in all provinces, prepare health centres and hospital, and provide medical staff with personal protective equipment".

The committee also called for the implementation of a "partial curfew" and for the closure of wedding halls, shopping centres and mosques outside of prayer times.

The Houthis, who control much of the north including the capital Sanaa, do not report any cases from areas under their control.

The United Nations has warned that the coronavirus pandemic could exacerbate the already dire humanitarian situation in Yemen, which has been pushed to the brink of famine.

Veicht also deplored that "no one" had been vaccinated yet in Yemen.

"While some countries have successfully vaccinated half of their population, Yemen finds itself at the back of the queue for vaccines, highlighting again the global vaccine access inequality, with no one vaccinated in the country to date," he said.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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