As conflict between armed groups escalates and airstrikes continue, Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) medical staff struggle to keep hospitals running in the face of fighting, bombing raids, and desperate shortages of medicine and fuel. Here, Afghan MSF doctor Mahmood Menapal describes the situation in Taiz, and remembers the conflict he grew up with in Afghanistan.
I arrived in Yemen in late May after the recent crisis had started. The MSF team sent me directly to Taiz—as we were planning to do an assessment there—to identify the shortages and the medical needs in that area. Before my arrival, some urgent material such as medical kits and other supplies that were required by the hospital in Taiz were being coordinated, and we continued the process in the true nature of MSF (neutral, independent, and impartial). We identified that several hospitals on both sides of the conflict needed medical supplies. Beside this, there was [a] lack of surgical instruments and surgical kits in many hospitals and MSF donated neurosurgery, vascular surgery, orthopedic surgery, and abdominal surgery kits to different hospitals.
I was accompanied by another doctor, and the project coordinator and advisor of the mission were already in Taiz. After a month, the doctor left and a logistician came to the project. Day and night, we were working as a team to establish a good network and introduce MSF to the community and to warring parties. It worked well and everyone in the community established great respect for MSF.
Arrival in Taiz
When we arrived in Taiz, the situation was quite tense and there were many injured people due to the fighting and airstrikes. MSF therefore decided to intervene and provide medical supplies to the main hospitals in Taiz like Al-Jumhori, Al-Thawra, Al-Rawdah, Military, and Al-Qa’idah (Ibb Governorate). These hospitals have been receiving many war victims and had a huge need for medical supplies.
The humanitarian situation was horrible in the areas affected by the fighting such as Aden, Lahj, Al-Dhale’, and Taiz. Thousands of people were trapped behind the frontlines and were unable to access the remaining operating health facilities; unable to get food and clean water. In Taiz the situation escalated in the last months, which enabled us to reach the hospitals. Most of the hospitals and health facilities were shut down because of [a] shortage of medical supplies, fuel, and water. Yemeni people are living in very difficult conditions, they don’t have access to health care, food, or water [either]. The situation is devastating there.
In the beginning of the crisis we were able to move quite safely from our house and office to the hospitals, but as the situation got worse with daily active frontlines, ground shelling, and snipers all over the town, it was impossible for Yemeni people and MSF teams to move freely and safely.
People were too scared to move around the city since snipers and fighters didn’t discriminate between [combatants] and civilians. Neither Yemeni people nor MSF teams could see where the snipers were located. We treated many patients [hit by] snipers' bullets; most of them had chest and head wounds. It was clear from the wounds that snipers were shooting to kill.
I didn’t have much fear, I've lived this situation before. I grew up in a warzone, so being in Yemen didn’t terrify me much. But I was really worried about the snipers. Nevertheless, it was really important for us to provide humanitarian aid to vulnerable and wounded people. It was really difficult but we tried our best.
There were some nights that we couldn’t sleep because of the explosions, the sound of the planes, and airstrikes. During the day there were airstrikes and the city became full of dust and smoke. It was a very dangerous situation but we were so determined to provide humanitarian aid.
When I was in Yemen, I had so many flashbacks from the war I lived. As an Afghani who had lived through many years of airstrikes and fights, being in Yemen brought all these memories back. I felt the importance of MSF and for more doctors to be there.
I left Afghanistan in 1983 and moved to Pakistan. In January 2001, I started working as a doctor with MSF but after 29 years of serving the community in Pakistan, my house got bombed. That is when I decided to leave the country. In January 2012 I claimed asylum in the Netherlands with my wife and two daughters. From 2013 to 2014 I started working with MSF again as a medical doctor. For my first mission I was sent to South Sudan. Then I went to Yemen for my second mission.
A month before I left Taiz there were 4,000 injured in one hospital. If we were not there the number of dead people would be much more. People would die easily, as there is a huge lack of medical supplies such as chest tubes, anesthetic drugs, IV fluid, sutures, and antibiotics. We were doing relatively well in saving lives of people in Taiz in particular and in Yemen in general.
I’m so sad to leave Taiz. My colleagues and I started the project from zero. I hope that the crisis in Yemen will end soon, but if it did not, I would still love to go back to Yemen to save the lives of those who are suffering from this indiscriminate war.
MSF's Work in Taiz
Since the beginning of May 2015, MSF has been providing emergency medications and surgical supplies to Al-Jumhori, Al-Thawra, Al-Rawdah, Military, and Al-Qa’idah hospitals, which have been receiving people affected by violence in the recent and ongoing conflict. During this period, MSF set up and equipped three extra emergency rooms (ERs) at Al-Rawdah Hospital to allow extra space for handling mass casualties while continuing to support the hospital’s main ER with supplies and staffing.
MSF has four medical doctors and one nurse working in the emergency room of Al-Rawdah Hospital, in addition to covering the salaries of 27 hospital staff members who are working in the emergency rooms to ensure a 24/7 presence. Since May 15, 2015, Al-Rawdah Hospital has received a total of 3,821 war-wounded patients, of which 308 died, including 15 women. MSF provides a hospital-to-hospital referral system that started with two ambulances; this initiative to be expanded depending on the need.
MSF began setting up an office in Taiz in June 2015 to ensure continued support during this crisis period, and also started a project for a mother and child health care with a 100-bed capacity for obstetrics and gynecology and pediatrics focusing on children under five years of age. An MSF team consisting of four expats and eight supporting local staff is on the ground to carry out further needs assessments where necessary.