Yemen's healthcare system is collapsing under conflict and coronavirus

A coronavirus patient in Sanaa, Yemen Credit: Associated Press

This week, the UK called for drastic action in Yemen, a country mired by both a devastating war and the rapid spread of coronavirus.

Five years of conflict in Yemen has resulted in a shattered healthcare system and widespread malnourishment. On top of this crisis, Covid-19 has been surging through the country.

Research from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine found infections in the middle-Eastern country may have reached one million. The same study projects a worst-case scenario of up to 85,000 deaths.

So, what is being done to help Yemen and how did this crisis unfold?

  • Why is Yemen at war?

The current conflict began in 2015, but it's rooted in the 2011 Arab Spring. During Yemen's uprising, authoritarian president Ali Abdullah Saleh was replaced by his second-in-command, Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi.

Mr Hadi was widely thought to be a weak leader with a corrupt administration. Thus, the Iran-aligned Houthi movement took this opportunity to seize their northern heartland of Saada province and the surrounding areas.

Mr Hadi went into exile in early 2015. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia formed a coalition of Sunni Muslim allies (backed by the US, UK and France) and sought to stop Iran from gaining influence on its border. They began air strikes in the hopes of toppling the Houthis and reinstating Mr Hadi's government.

Since then, there has been infighting on both sides of the conflict and a complex deadlock has caused what most consider to be the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

Yemen's Houthi rebels are in conflict with a Western-backed coalition. Credit: Associated Press
  • Why has the world become more concerned than ever

As a result of the conflict, Yemen is the Arab world's poorest country. The UN has warned that coronavirus is currently surging throughout the country, largely due to inadequate testing capabilities and a health system in disarray.

The UN itself is struggling for funds - this month, its humanitarian appeal for Yemen fell $1 billion short of what aid agencies needed.

To add to Yemen's misery, a a six-week ceasefire implemented to inhibit the virus expired last month. Violence between the two sides has erupted again - the country is once again tackling a war and a pandemic.

  • What is being done to help Yemen?

Multinational corporations have teamed up with a struggling UN to bolster Yemen's healthcare system. This week, the joint initiative sent large over three shipments of medical supplies.

“It’s very important that we as a private sector help the public health authorities in their work on the ground,” said Mohamed Nabil Hayel Saeed, a spokesman for the initiative.

Social media campaigns for increased public support are gaining traction. For instance, a compilation of educational resources has been circulating widely over the past month.

The UK’s minister for the Middle East, James Cleverly, paid a “virtual visit” to the country this week through a series of video calls, expressing deep concern at what he saw.

"All parties to the conflict must work with the UN so there is safe access for food and medicine supplies," he added.

David Miliband, CEO of the International Rescue Committee, echoes this plea.

Citing a case fatality ratio of almost four times the global average, he said: “This is the time for donors to step up, not to look away".

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