Doctors fighting the coronavirus 'catastrophe' in Yemen are begging for UN support

At the cemetery in Yemens largest southern city, dozens of fresh graves are a testament to a spike in deaths amid the coronavirus pandemic. Source: AP

Médecins Sans Frontières' coronavirus hospital in Yemen has a 30 per cent mortality rate, and doctors are fearing that number will only climb without more international aid.

Medical teams fighting the coronavirus outbreak in Yemen are pleading with the international community for support, saying people will continue to die if healthcare workers cannot access basic supplies.

In Yemen's temporary capital Aden, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is running the only dedicated COVID-19 treatment centre in southern Yemen.

Yemeni security personnel disinfect a man on a motorcycle.
Yemeni security personnel disinfect a man on a motorcycle.

Yemen has only reported 233 coronavirus cases, but MSF's deputy program manager for Yemen, Marc Schakal, told SBS News that number was likely only "the tip of the iceberg." 

"We have seen a 30 per cent mortality rate in our centre, which is alarming, and those people are arriving late with already severe symptoms, so we are afraid some people are affected and are probably dying without being detected," he said.

"We have also seen the number of burials increasing in the city, so we don't want to draw any quick conclusion out of that, but the figures explain what could be happening within the communities." 

MSF's centre in Aden has admitted 173 patients since 30 April, with 68 losing their fight to COVID-19.

Following five years of civil war, Yemen's healthcare system is not equipped to handle a significant coronavirus outbreak. 

MSF is urging the United Nations and its donor states to help them avoid a catastrophe in Yemen.

They say they are running out of money to fund healthcare workers and their personal protective equipment and medical supplies as well as oxygen concentrators to help sick patients breathe.


Mr Schakal said the lack of hands on deck and medical supplies was putting huge pressure on MSF's local team.

"It's very difficult for our clinicians to see people dying and to do everything they can, 24 hours a day," he said.

"With such a high mortality, they are facing some very difficult clinical decisions to make, and it's a very stressful environment."

Meanwhile, Australians with family in Yemen are urging the federal government to help get them to safety amid the worsening pandemic and the ongoing civil war.

MSF's plea comes as the UN warns a range of its aid programs in Yemen could soon be cut due to funding shortages ahead of a donor conference on 2 June.

The UN has estimated it would take $2 billion in funding to keep Yemen's programs running for the rest of 2020, with only $677 million donated so far this year.

With more than $4 billion donated for Yemen last year, the UN says the COVID-19 pandemic has put the country "on the brink". 

Yemeni security personnel disinfect an area outside a security headquarters in the Huthi-rebel-held capital Sanaa.
Yemeni security personnel disinfect an area outside a security headquarters in the Huthi-rebel-held capital Sanaa.

MSF's operations manager for Yemen, Caroline Seguin, said one of the most alarming things about the country's COVID-19 outbreak was how few people were seeking medical attention.

"People are coming to us too late to save, and we know that many more people are not coming at all: they are just dying at home. It is a heartbreaking situation," she said.

"We are doing all that we can, but we cannot face this virus alone. It would be unconscionable for the world to just leave Aden and the rest of Yemen to face this crisis by themselves." 

People in Australia must stay at least 1.5 metres away from others. Check your state’s restrictions on gathering limits.

Testing for coronavirus is now widely available across Australia. If you are experiencing cold or flu symptoms, arrange a test by calling your doctor or contact the Coronavirus Health Information Hotline on 1800 020 080. 

The federal government's coronavirus tracing app COVIDSafe is available for download from your phone's app store.

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