The spread of the Chinese coronavirus in war-torn Yemen “has in effect collapsed” the country’s healthcare system, the United Nations warned on Friday, appealing for urgent humanitarian funding.
The spokesman for the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), Jens Laerke, told a briefing in Geneva on Friday that health workers were being forced to turn people away for treatment, due to lack of medical supplies and personal protective equipment.
“Aid agencies in Yemen are operating on the basis that community transmission is taking place across the country,” he said. “We hear from many of them that Yemen is really on the brink right now. The situation is extremely alarming, they are talking about that the health system has in effect collapsed.”
On Thursday, a flight carrying international aid workers landed in the city of Aden, yet the country still remains desperately short of the number needed to properly manage the situation, which experts believe is far worse than being reported.
Laerke warned that various essential aid programs, including ones set up for an effective coronavirus response, may have to be cut off in the coming weeks because of funding shortages. The U.N. will consequently host a virtual fundraising conference with Saudi Arabia on June 2nd.
“It is very, very critical that the international community steps up now and at the pledging conference on the 2nd of June because we are heading towards a fiscal cliff,” he explained. “If we do not get the money coming in, the programs that are keeping people alive, are very much essential to fighting back against COVID, will have to close.”
“And then the world will have to witness in a country what happens without a functioning health system battling COVID,” he continued. “I do not think the world wants to see that.”
Yemen has officially recorded 184 cases and 30 deaths as of Friday, but the medical charity Doctors Without Borders revealed this week that these figures are incorrect and that at least 68 have died from the virus at its Aden facility in the first half of May alone.
Laerke asserted that the U.N. was “working on the assumption that there is already widespread communal transmission going on,” while its population is also at risk from other major diseases including a cholera outbreak estimated to have infected over two million people.
Yemen’s healthcare system has been on the brink of collapse for several years now amid a lengthy civil war that has forced millions of people to flee their homes as refugees. The war between Saudi-backed government forces and the Iran-backed Huthis began in March 2015, when a Saudi-led military coalition intervened against insurgents began taking over the country.
The war has left tens of thousands of Yemenis dead, the majority of them civilians, and the U.N. estimates around 24 million people, around 80 percent of the population, are dependent on some form of humanitarian aid.