"We live in a country at war, there is no good health system.”
“A month ago I became sick,” said Khaled, 43, from Sana’a. “I had a heavy cough, and I saw a doctor who told me I might have COVID-19. After a week, my oxygen levels were getting lower and lower and I started fainting. I was admitted to the intensive care unit and had to stay there 16 days. The disease is really scary.”
Khaled said another reason he was so scared was because he knew that in Yemen the options for healthcare are limited. Six years of war caused the collapse of the country’s health system, and large parts areas have no capacity at all to respond to the spreading COVID-19 outbreak.
“We live in a country that’s at war, there is no good health system. The situation in general is deteriorating,” said Khaled. “The medications that I got treated with would have cost around $8,500 [at a private clinic]. I would never have been able to pay that. I would have died.”
People are also being forced to make dangerous trips over long distances to reach care. “When my father Mohammed got sick I took him to the hospital in Rada’a, but they could not do anything for him there,” said Ali, 36, from al-Bayda, a governorate more than 62 miles southeast of Sana’a. “I drove him to Dhamar, which took three hours, and all the way I was constantly shifting my gaze between the road and my father, I was so worried about him.”
In Dhamar Mohammed did not find a hospital that could treat his father either, so he had to hire an ambulance to bring him to Sana’a, yet more hours away. “We had to spend around $70 to get enough fuel to get to Sana’a,” said Mohammed, 40. “We drove with our own car from Rada’a to Sana’a, which took around four hours. We tried to find an oxygen bottle to use for the trip, but we could not find one anywhere. In Rada’a there are a lot of people sick.”
Every day a steady stream of families arrives at the emergency entrance in front of the fence outside al-Kuwait hospital. They come in taxis and old cars, the sick people exhausted, sometimes hooked up to an oxygen bottle and helped into a wheelchair before being admitted. But many more cannot afford the huge sums of money required to come from places as far away as al-Bayda and Hajjah governorates.
“There are many critical cases with symptoms of COVID-19 coming from far away,” said Mohammed al-Ghabri, MSF’s medical referent for the treatment center. “Both our male and female wards are full, and we are using 500 oxygen cylinders a day in addition to the oxygen plant. The needs are huge— it’s a real struggle to provide all this oxygen. But at least this year the disease is more familiar, we know how better to treat people.”