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Surge in coronavirus death rates in Yemen’s Aden might surpass its wartime death toll


Yemen is a country that endured years of raging civil wars, Cholera and extreme poverty. As the coronavirus started spreading across the country, the city of Aden recorded 950 deaths in the first two weeks of May, which represents almost half the number of casualties the city suffered in all of 2015. Because of low testing capacity, health workers don’t know what the actual number of deaths is but the official Covid-19 death toll in Southern Yemen stands at only 127. The UN is concerned that at least 40,000 Yemenis will die from Covid-19, while more than half of the population could be infected by the disease. On top of Covid-19, there’s a mosquito-transmitted virus known as the Chikungunya virus infecting the Yemeni people, as well as more than 100,000 known cases of Cholera cases across the country. Cholera has already killed 4,000 people and infected 2.3 million Yemenis in the past.

Due to Covid-19, the Al Radwan cemetery in Aden has expanded over the past few months with new graves being dug every day. The health workers come and go in silence and fear of infection means that there are no mourners for those who died of Covid-19.

Collapsing health care system

The health sector in Yemen is collapsing and the country is in severe need of help. Many hospitals have closed due to lack of funding and doctors are now worried about their own safety. Some hospitals that are still intact refuse to treat Covid-19 patients because staff members there don’t have the right protection equipment such as masks and gowns. Health workers say most coronavirus patients seek medical assistance in late stages of the disease which makes it harder to save them and most cases are rejected because there are no ventilators. In the city of Aden which has a population of nearly 800,000 people, there are only 60 hospital beds dedicated to Covid-19 patients in two hospitals operated by Doctors Without Borders (MSF). According to MSF, there are only 18 ventilators that are constantly being used. Caroline Seguin, MSF communications officer in Aden said that the health sector was already weak before the Covid-19 outbreak and it is getting worse and worse.

During the war, hundreds of citizens have been driven into camps as refugees. There, they face the risks of malnutrition and overcrowding, which makes it a favorable environment for the spread of Covid-19. According to UNHCR’s Jean-Nicolas Beuze, many Yemenis could develop severe Covid-19 symptoms due to malnourishment.

Dr. Ishraq Al-Subei, the health official responsible for the response to the disease told CNN that Yemen has faced wars and cannot handle three pandemics, economic collapse, a war and the coronavirus. The overwhelmed health sector and rising death toll in Aden is seen as a warning that the worse is yet to come.

Financial aid lacking

After a humanitarian summit raised only $1.35bn for this year, the UN has warned that Yemen is on the brink of a tragedy. The sum raised is around $1bn short of the target and the UN’s humanitarian chief, Mark Lowcock, said unless more money was raised Yemen “will face a horrific outcome at the end of the year”. He added that despite the shortfall, the UN will not abandon the Yemeni people and will continue its fundraising efforts.

Directorate of Lebanese Studies and Publications

Romy Harfouche

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