Yemen: Second wave of COVID-19 overwhelms medical facilities

MSF calls on international actors to rapidly increase support

MSF COVID Intervention in Aden, Al Gomhuria Hospital

Yemen 2020 © Hareth Mohammed/MSF

NEW YORK/ADEN, MARCH 25, 2021—On the anniversary of the start of the war in Yemen, the international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is seeing a dramatic influx of critically ill COVID-19 patients requiring hospitalization in Aden and many other parts of the country.

“We are urging all medical humanitarian organizations already present in Yemen to rapidly scale up their COVID-19 emergency response,” said Raphael Veicht, MSF head of mission in Yemen. “International donors who cut their humanitarian funding to Yemen must also act quickly. All aspects of the COVID-19 intervention are lacking and need greater international support, from public health messaging, to vaccinations, to oxygen therapy—support is needed across the board.”

After six years of war, Yemen’s health care system has been crippled and the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) treatment capacity is limited. MSF is providing support to the COVID-19 treatment center in Al Gamhouria hospital in Aden. Its medical team is able to care for 11 ICU patients and up to 46 patients in the inpatient department. Currently all 11 ICU beds are fully occupied.

“Unfortunately, many of the patients we see are already in a critical medical condition when they arrive,” said Line Lootens, MSF medical coordinator in Yemen. “Most patients need very high levels of oxygen and medical treatment. Some patients also require mechanical ventilation at the ICU, which is difficult and requires a very high level of medical care.”

MSF is calling on the Yemeni population to follow the COVID-19 prevention measures such as social distancing, hand washing, and wearing masks more rigorously. It is also important that patients with severe COVID-19 symptoms seek specialized medical care early on in order to have a better chance of recovering from the disease. Additionally, to stop the spread of the virus, it’s critical that COVID-19 vaccines are made available to people in Yemen.

MSF’s COVID-19 response is carried out with the support of the Ministry of Public Health and Population (MoPHP) and the Al Gamhouria General Hospital. Today, the team at the COVID-19 treatment center consists of more than 100 doctors, nurses, and support staff who are working around the clock to respond to the needs.

“We are very grateful for this much-needed support by the health authorities in Yemen,” Veicht said. “Nevertheless, the sharp increase in COVID-19 cases over the past weeks is extremely alarming and worrying. While some countries have successfully vaccinated half of their population, Yemen finds itself at the back of the queue for vaccines, highlighting again the global vaccine access inequality, with no one vaccinated in the country to date.”

The Al Gamhouria COVID-19 treatment center in Aden was established by MSF in 2020, during the first wave of the COVID-19 outbreak. It was later handed over to the MoPHP when the health situation improved. Following the sharp increase of COVID-19 cases at the beginning of this month, a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed on March 15 with the MoPHP and the Al Gamhouria hospital management to re-launch a COVID-19 emergency intervention. As part of this emergency intervention, MSF has deployed a team of one medical coordinator, two ICU medical doctors, two ICU nurses, and two logisticians to provide medical care for critically ill COVID-19 patients.