As It Happens

Patients have 'nowhere to go' after airstrike destroys rural hospital in Yemen

The non-governmental organization Save the Children, which supports the hospital, has called for a 'credible' investigation into the bombing.

Several children are among the dead after a missile strikes a petrol station metres from hospital

Destroyed buildings (including a pharmacy) next to the Kitaf hospital, which was hit by an airstrike on Tuesday in Yemen. (Save the Children)
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Five children are among the at least eight people killed after a missile struck a petrol station just metres away from Kitaf hospital in rural northwest Yemen on Tuesday, says Save the Children.

All five boys were between the ages of eight and 14, says Jason Lee, director of program operations in Yemen for Save the Children, which supports the hospital.

Lee spoke with As it Happens guest host Megan Williams from Yemen's capital, Sanaa. Here is part of their conversation.

Can you tell us what you've learned about the missile strike?

What we know so far is that there was a missile strike roughly about 9:30 in the morning that hit a petrol station just outside Kitaf hospital.

Can you describe the facility and what would have been going on there when this happened?

The facility is a rural hospital and it serves a population about 5,000 people.

It's in a crowded marketplace as well. So there are lots of people milling around. Lots of civilians going to the hospital. Lots of families, parents taking the children to the hospital. 

A damaged hospital corridor, used as waiting area. (Save the Children)

So what kind of damage took place when the missile hit?

Because of the close proximity of the missile, which is 50 metres away — when you think about that, it's really nothing when you're talking about a bomb that's being dropped. 

We have the buildings being destroyed, all the windows and doors have been blown up.

Unfortunately, we've got five children that have been killed [and] three adults, and eight injured. And we still have two people that are unaccounted for. 

Our preliminary reports suggest that the pharmacy was destroyed, which means that the medicines [that] were there were also no longer available. Some of the waiting rooms, the examination room sustained damage as well.

You mentioned the people who died. Do you know anything more about them?

Unfortunately, we know that one health worker was killed. 

And again, the children ... all of them were boys: a 14-year-old, two 12-year-olds, a 10-year-old, and the youngest was an eight-year-old.

Two of those children were actually the children of the health worker that was killed as well.

'Our colleague lost two children. They were burned,' said this injured health worker who was in the emergency room treating two young children suffering from chest pains when the bombing happened. (Save the Children)

Can you tell me what kind of work has been going on there, and how important it is to the area? 

It provides very much needed primary health care. Also maternal and child health. And in the context of Yemen, where we've got malnutrition rates which are astronomical, it actually has a treatment facility as well for malnourished children.

So what kind of impact will it have on the area, the fact that it that it's been bombed now?

The hospital is closed.

So lots of pregnant women — mothers that need to deliver — don't have a safe space. The children that are being treated for malnutrition don't have anywhere to go.

And even basic primary health care, these community members have no ability to access care. The closest health facility that they can access is in Sa'dah City, which is about 60 kilometres away — which is a very long distance to travel, particularly in an emergency.

Do you believe the Saudi-led coalition was responsible for the bombing?

I can't say definitively. What we do know, though, is that during the time of the attack, there were many planes flying overhead, which eyewitness accounts said they heard.

The airspace in Yemen is currently closed. And the only party to the conflict that has access to the air and the capabilities to launch an airstrike is the coalition.

This is why for Save the Children, we are calling for a independent credible investigation to actually find out what actually happened, and for those who are responsible to be held accountable. 

Do you have any sense of how soon you'll be able to reopen the hospital?

At the moment, no.

Our first and foremost priority is to provide assistance to the victims and their families, and those that are injured. So for the eight civilians that have been injured, we're trying to ascertain what is the medical care that they require, and can we provide that.

And also for the families of the deceased to actually ensure that they are still able to continue surviving — in a situation where there is very little employment, there's high rates of malnutrition — to make sure that these families are able to survive with the loss of their loved ones. 

Interview produced by Chris Harbord. Q&A edited for length and clarity.

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