COVID-19 may be ‘catastrophic’ for Yemen: WHO warns

Health system in Yemen unable to fully prepare for pandemic after 5 years of war, says WHO Yemen representative

If allowed to spread within the war-torn country, the novel coronavirus threatens to become a “catastrophic” disaster in Yemen, according to an official with the World Health Organization (WHO).

“The health system here is already fragile. Should the virus become fully transmissible in Yemen, it will be catastrophic in the country,” Altaf Musani, the WHO Representative and mission chief in Yemen, told Anadolu Agency in an exclusive interview on the latest developments about the virus’s spread in the Middle Eastern country.

Noting that though the country’s health system was starting efforts to prepare for a response to the pandemic, Musani warned that it would never be fully prepared as it had experienced conflict within its borders for the past five years.

“This health system will never be fully prepared, because we’ve had five years of war, and that conflict, that vulnerability, and that fragility has really weakened the health system to deal with routine health matters such as cholera, dengue and malaria.”

Musani said he was “deeply worried” should the country find itself facing coronavirus cases, since the health system would “not be able to manage” the outbreak.

Earlier this week, the Yemeni authorities have confirmed eight COVID-19 death cases and 51 cases in areas under its control. Half of the fatalities and 35 infections were reported in the temporary capital city of Aden alone.

Although the first infection case was declared on April 10 in the southern Hadramaut province of Yemen, Musani said the particular patient has recovered — which was announced on April 13 by the government — but noted that there have been subsequent additional five cases declared by the authorities in Aden.

Musani underlined that the WHO was dealing with both of two different authorities in the country, adding that they were providing capacity to both.

“We have a situation where we deal with two different authorities, the internationally recognized government and Aden as well as the de facto authorities in Sanaa. We have provided capacity to both these entities to make sure that they can test for the virus, trace for the virus, of course isolate and treat,” he said.

Yemen has been beset by violence and chaos since 2014, when Houthi rebels overran much of the country, including Sana’a. The crisis escalated in 2015 when a Saudi-led military coalition launched a devastating air campaign aimed at rolling back Houthi territorial gains.

Since then, tens of thousands of Yemenis, including numerous civilians, are believed to have been killed in the conflict, while another 14 million are at risk of starvation, according to the UN.