World

Yemen's health system 'has in effect collapsed' as coronavirus spreads, UN says

The new coronavirus is believed to be spreading throughout Yemen, where the health-care system "has in effect collapsed," the United Nations said on Friday, appealing for urgent funding.

Aid workers report turning people away because of lack of medical oxygen and supplies: UN humanitarian chief

A health worker takes the temperature of a woman riding a taxi van, amid concerns of the spread of COVID-19, at the main entrance of Sanaa, Yemen, on May 9. (Khaled Abdullah/Reuters)

The new coronavirus is believed to be spreading throughout Yemen, where the health-care system "has in effect collapsed," the United Nations said on Friday, appealing for urgent funding.

"Aid agencies in Yemen are operating on the basis that community transmission is taking place across the country," Jens Laerke, spokesman for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), told a Geneva briefing.

"We hear from many of them that Yemen is really on the brink right now. The situation is extremely alarming, they are talking about that the health system has in effect collapsed," he said.

Aid workers report having to turn people away because they do not have enough medical oxygen or sufficient supplies of personal protective equipment, Laerke said.

A flight carrying international aid workers landed in Aden, the capital, on Thursday as airspace opened up for rotations, but Yemeni nationals have been doing most of the on-site work, he said.

'Wider catastrophe unfolding'

The main coronavirus treatment centre in southern Yemen has recorded at least 68 deaths in just over two weeks, Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders), the medical charity running the site, said on Thursday.

The figure — more than double the toll announced by Yemeni authorities so far — suggested "a wider catastrophe unfolding in the city," MSF said.

War-ravaged Yemen, whose malnourished population has among the world's lowest immunity levels to disease, is divided between the Saudi-backed government based in Aden and its foe, the Iran-aligned Houthi group, in the north.

A Yemeni doctor talks to a patient receiving treatment at a hospital in Aden, Yemen, on May 12. (Wail al-Qubaty/The Associated Press)

Yemeni authorities have reported 184 coronavirus infections, including 30 deaths, to the World Health Organization (WHO), the latest WHO figures showed overnight. "The actual incidence is almost certainly much higher," Laerke said.

The United Nations estimates that it will seek $2 billion US for Yemen to maintain aid programs through year-end, he added.

Noting that the world body and Saudi Arabia will co-host a virtual pledging conference in 10 days, Laerke said, "It is very, very critical that the international community steps up now and at the pledging conference on the 2nd of June, because we are heading towards a fiscal cliff."

"If we do not get the money coming in, the programs that are keeping people alive, [which] are very much essential to fighting back against COVID, will have to close," he said.

"And then the world will have to witness in a country what happens without a functioning health system battling COVID. I do not think the world wants to see that."

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