HUFFINGTON POST

War Is Destroying Yemen's Medical System When The Country Needs It Most

"Bombings are a daily reality for Yemenis, even inside hospitals."
An estimated 23 percent of health facilities have closed in Yemen since airstrikes began in March.
An estimated 23 percent of health facilities have closed in Yemen since airstrikes began in March.

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Hospitals and health facilities have repeatedly come under fire during Yemen’s conflict, leaving the country’s medical system in tatters at a time when it’s needed the most.

The nine-month war in Yemen has left more than 5,000 people dead and some 27,500 injured. Yemen's medical system was already fragile, reliant on imported drugs and the assistance of humanitarian organizations like Doctors Without Borders. Nearly one-quarter of medical facilities have closed due to damage or shortages of supplies, fuel or staff since the conflict escalated in March.

More than 99 health facilities, including hospitals and clinics, have been damaged or destroyed in Yemen’s war, according to the World Health Organization.

Last week, bombs slammed into a tented clinic where Doctors Without Borders was treating people displaced by war in the Yemeni city of Taiz, wounding nine people, including two clinic staff. The main hospital in the city was hit by rockets last month.

Another Doctors Without Borders hospital, in a remote mountain valley of Yemen, was reduced to rubble in late October by hours of bombardment. The staff and patients managed to escape with their lives, but the last functioning hospital in the Haydan area of northern Saada province was destroyed.

"Bombings are a daily reality for Yemenis, even inside hospitals," Mego Terzian, president of Doctors Without Borders France, said after the bombing.

October had already been a horrifying month for Doctors Without Borders. On Oct. 3, U.S. airstrikes hit the organization's hospital in the Afghan city of Kunduz, leaving at least 30 staff and patients dead. The carnage in Kunduz is now the subject of a U.S. military investigation, but Doctors Without Borders is calling for an independent inquiry into the attack.

Doctors Without Borders and United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also have called for an investigation into the hospital attacks in Yemen. Human rights group Amnesty International said the Doctors Without Borders hospital in Saada appears to have been deliberately targeted, which may amount to a war crime.

“The neutrality of health care facilities and staff is not being respected,” the deputy head of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Yemen, Kedir Awol Omar, said in a statement last month. “Health facilities are deliberately attacked and surgical and medical supplies are also being blocked from reaching hospitals in areas under siege.”

Saudi Arabia, which leads the military coalition supporting forces loyal to President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi in their battle against Houthi rebels and their allies, denied its jets had struck the hospital in Saada, and gave conflicting statements about who would carry out an investigation.

Doctors Without Borders said it was “beyond doubt” that the coalition was responsible. “How can we continue to work without any form of commitment that civilian structures will be spared?” Laurent Sury, the organization’s head of emergency operations, asked in a statement.

The war has left over 5,000 people dead and some 27,500 injured.
The war has left over 5,000 people dead and some 27,500 injured.

The group's work is especially critical, as Yemen’s health system nears complete collapse. More than 600 health facilities have shut since the conflict broke out, and more than 15 million people lack access to health services, according to WHO.

As the remaining facilities struggle to treat the war-wounded, other health crises are piling up. More than a half-million children are life-threateningly malnourished. Cancer and anti-retroviral medication is in short supply. In one hospital in the capital Sanaa, cancer patients are sleeping in the parking lot as they wait for chemotherapy, and staff have converted offices into makeshift wards.

“Health services in Yemen are at their breaking point,” WHO warned last week. “Unless the health system receives sufficient support, immediately, it could collapse completely.”

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