Covid's deadly toll on Yemen's medics: ITV News learns 105 have died so far

Video report by ITV News Senior International Correspondent John Irvine

ITV News has learnt more than 100 healthcare workers are known to have died with Covid-19 in Yemen since the start of the pandemic, while the toll continues to rise.  

105 lifesavers have lost their lives in a country with an already severely depleted healthcare system, international charity Medglobal has said. There are currently 10 doctors per 10,000 people.  

The dead include doctors, nurses, infectious disease experts, medical directors, midwives and pharmacists. 

  • Presenter Charlene White explains the 'horrific' Yemen death toll

The medical death toll is crippling a country known to be one of the world's most fragile states. Yemen was already suffering a humanitarian crisis; coronavirus has been claiming yet more lives.  

ITV News gained access to one of Yemen's busiest hospitals, Al Sadaqa, in the southern city of Aden. Al Sadaqa is at critical point, like so many hospitals in the country. 

According to the latest figures from MedGlobal and the World Health Organisation, there is a 29 per cent mortality rate in Yemen, which is more than five times higher than the global average of just under six per cent. 

Millions in Yemen are said to be in dire need of health assistance, which explains why once contracted, Covid-19 allegedly kills one in four people here. 

Al Sadaqa’s hospital manager, Dr Kifaya Al Jazei, spoke powerfully of their desperate situation. In tears, Dr Al Jazei told us nine of her colleagues have been killed already by Covid-19, while others have fled due to fears of the virus.  

She also mentioned the lack of basic lifesaving equipment. For example, she said there is only one ventilator in a hospital which sometimes sees 20,000 patients monthly just in its emergency department. She has the same struggle with other necessary resources.

“We don’t have central X-ray machine,” Dr Al Jazei said.  

“Whether Covid or not, patients need it, but we don’t have it. We only have an old one.” 

Finally, she spoke about the many other diseases her team try to treat daily, from dengue fever, malaria, cholera and malnutrition. These conditions are not solely creating more work for medics, they are also weakening the Yemeni population and making them more prone to coronavirus. 

Yemen's death rate from Covid-19 is horrific; 29% of those who get it are dying, five times the global average. Credit: ITV News/Hassan Al Sallami

As we filmed around Al Sadaqa, we saw evidence of its struggles: a rusty oxygen cylinder and gaunt, tiny children being treated.  

Dr Al Jazei’s colleague, Dr Yasser Numan told us: “The country has been suffering from war for six years, and pandemics. This is affecting the health situation and health infrastructure. This country has no income to support hospitals and the number of international organisations helping decreased, especially after coronavirus.” 

MedGlobal is helping Al Sadaqa, amongst other hospitals in Yemen, with basics like PPE.

The charity president, Dr. Zaher Sahloul, told ITV News: "There was already a chronic shortage of medical professionals in Yemen, and when one medical professional dies in Yemen, the effect extends to the entire community they would serve.”  

“With so many health workers who have died from Covid-19, we are certain that the actual prevalence and mortality of Covid-19 throughout Yemen is much higher than official reports are able to indicate.” 

The medics of Yemen face a double danger - Oxfam confirmed this month that on average there is an air raid “every ten days” on a medical or water facility in Yemen. 

Save the Children gave ITV news footage from inside a 'frontline' hospital across the country in Abs, in Hajjah, which is often under fire. Little wonder that only half of the country's pre-war health facilities are now functional.

“We can hear the sounds of artillery shelling here in the treatment centre. This is a significant obstacle not only for the medical staff, but also for the patients themselves,” the hospital’s manager, Dr Khalid Ahmed, told us.

  • Dr Ahmed on the hazards of working at his hospital

Credit: Save the Children

Back in Aden, Dr Kifaya is keen despite all the challenges she and fellow Yemenis face, to talk about hope for the future for the country she’s known all her life. 

“Yemen is a good country," she said. 

“The best country. All the world looks to Yemen in bad eyes.  I want people to see good things in Yemen.” 

The Disasters Emergency Committee currently has an emergency coronavirus appeal for the most vulnerable countries battling the virus globally, particularly Yemen. Donations can be made via the DEC website.