More than 15.2 million Yemenis now lack access to health care services, well over half the war-torn country’s total population, yet there is a 55 per cent gap in requested international funding to address the crisis, according to the United Nations health agency.
“The intensification of conflict in Yemen since March 2015 has pushed Yemen’s already weakened health system to the brink of collapse,” the UN World Health Organization (WHO) says in its latest update, appealing to the international community to step up its donations and warning that the crisis has not yet peaked.
“Insecurity, power shortages and a lack of fuel (for generators and ambulances) have led to the closure of almost one in four health facilities. Not only are health workers among the 2.3 million people displaced, but the procurement and distribution of medicines and medical supplies has been disrupted.
“In addition, economic factors are taking a toll on the Ministry of Health’s ability to fund the continued operation of health facilities and individuals’ ability to pay to access them. As a result, 15.2 million people currently lack access to health care and the conflict looks unlikely to abate any time soon.” The WHO needs $83 million to address Yemen’s health care crisis but has so far received only $37 million.
Since the outbreak of violence in 2014, the UN has been working with the Yemeni parties, regional countries and Member States in efforts to achieve a ceasefire and a resumption of a political transition towards a peaceful, stable and democratic country – so far in vain.
“Health services in Yemen are at their breaking point. Unless the health system receives sufficient support, immediately, it could collapse completely,” WHO warns, calling on Member States to provide additional funding, deploy medical teams and advocate for the protection of health workers and facilities and for the unrestricted delivery of medical supplies.
“The crisis has not reached its peak,” it stresses. “There is no political solution to the current conflict in sight. And, with 20 million people lacking access to safe water and sanitation, conditions are ripe for a major disease outbreak.”
The agency is working to support Yemen’s Health Ministry in coordinating the efforts of 22 partner agencies to meet the needs of people affected by the ongoing conflict, aiming to reach 10.3 million of the country’s most vulnerable people.
Treatment for conflict-related injuries is an immediate concern, but other health needs are mounting, including increasing difficulties in accessing care for chronic non-communicable conditions such as cancer, diabetes and high blood pressure.
While some of these conditions are easily treatable under normal circumstances, if left untreated, the consequences can be deadly. Non-communicable diseases account for 39 per cent of all deaths in Yemen. Women and children are particularly vulnerable, with over 500,000 children suffering from life-threatening malnutrition and becoming increasingly susceptible to communicable diseases like measles and polio.
For the past 10 months, WHO has been almost the only provider of medicines and medical supplies, distributing 300 tonnes of life-saving goods to the Ministry of Health, UN agencies and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). It has conducted fumigation campaigns to protect 250,000 people from dengue fever, provided intravenous (IV) fluids to treat 300 000 people, supported 71 health facilities with medicines, medical supplies and equipment, and delivered 119,000 litres of fuel to maintain uninterrupted services in hospitals and health facilities and support ambulance services.
WHO has also procured nutritional supplements and paediatric medicines for therapeutic feeding centres and supported improvements to water and sanitation infrastructure at health facilities, including the delivery of more than 300,000 water purification tablets between August and October.