Yemen health system ‘edging closer to collapse’ warns WHO
Hopes are running high of an end to the intense fighting between a Saudi-backed coalition standing alongside Government forces, and Houthi rebels and their allies, which since 2015 has led the near total collapse of the economy, with tens of thousands killed, and 21.6 million in need of humanitarian assistance and protection this year, according to the UN.
“Nevertheless, the country’s fragile health system is severely overburdened and edging closer to collapse”, said Dr. Annette Heinzelmann of the WHO in Yemen, “while international donor funding is insufficient to avert further deterioration of the country’s failing health services.”
Acute child malnutrition
She said that around 12.9 million Yemenis have urgent humanitarian healthcare needs, with 540,000 children under five, currently suffering from severe acute malnutrition “with a direct risk of death.”
Some 46 percent of health facilities across the country are only partially functioning or completely out of service, due to shortages of staff, funds, electricity, or medicines.
She told journalists at the regular Friday briefing at the UN in Geneva, that the Yemen humanitarian “Health Cluster”, made up of 46 UN and non-governmental organizations, has received only 62 million – or 16 percent – of the $392 million needed to reach those 12.9 million most-vulnerable people.
“Disease outbreaks – notably of measles, diphtheria, dengue, cholera and polio – are accelerating Yemen’s deepening health crisis. Mass-displacements, overburdened health facilities, disruptions of water and sanitation networks, and low immunization coverage are triggering and spreading these disease outbreaks.”
In the first quarter of this year, more than 13,000 new cases of measles, 8,777 cases of dengue fever, and 2,080 suspected cholera cases were reported. “But the actual numbers are likely much higher”, she warned.
System only just afloat
She said that WHO has managed to sustain an integrated response to Yemen’s health crisis in ten priority areas:
- Coordinating the national Health Cluster.
- Keeping therapeutic feeding centres (TFCs) operational.
- Strengthening disease surveillance.
- Responding to all infectious disease outbreaks.
- Supporting health care facilities and services..
- Controlling vector-borne, water-borne, and neglected tropical diseases.
- Fighting chronic diseases including diabetes, renal diseases, and cancer.
- Maintaining water, sanitation and hygiene services in health facilities to strengthen infection prevention and control measures.
- Supporting and improving maternal and newborn healthcare
- Meeting neglected mental health needs.
Supported by international donors, WHO was able to provide essential medical equipment, supplies, and training in 2022 to around 7.8 million people – that’s around 62 percent of the 12.6 million people targeted under the Humanitarian Response Plan for the year.
She said that WHO also ensured life-saving care for just over 60,000 Yemeni children suffering from severe acute malnutrition, with medical complications.
Dr. Heinzelmann said that WHO and health partners in Yemen “are beginning to see the dire consequences of our severely underfunded efforts to mitigate Yemen’s health crisis.”
She pointed to the expected suspension of support by the Yemen Health Cluster to 23 out of 43 health facilities in the Marib district, which is host to Yemen’s largest population of internally displaced persons (IDPs).
In effect, this will effectively stop healthcare services for about 2.8 million most vulnerable people in the area.
Out of money
She said WHO has “almost no funds available to prepare for Yemen’s annual flood season that is starting now and will bring a predictably major upsurge in vector-borne and water-borne disease outbreaks”.
“In closing, I must emphasize the consequences of Yemen becoming a forgotten humanitarian crisis. The Yemeni people are resilient but suffering greatly. More than two of every three Yemenis are dependent on food, medical, and other humanitarian assistance.
“The international community must scale up support to Yemen “to avert untold human suffering and deaths in coming months”, she concluded.