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Yemen & COVID-19 - Geneva Press Briefing: OCHA (22 May 2020)
22 May 2020 -  Without additional funding, war-torn Yemen will be left to fight the Covid-19 pandemic with a collapsed health system, warned today the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
Epidemiologists estimate that the virus could spread faster, more widely and with deadlier consequences in some of the world’s most vulnerable populations than in many other countries.
Speaking to a virtual press conference at the United Nations in Geneva, Jens Larke, spokesperson for the OCHA said 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. They are talking about having to turn people away because they do not have enough oxygen. They do not have enough Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), that the numbers that are officially reported are important parts, as I said, we are working on the assumption that there is widespread communal transmission going on”.
With only half of Yemen’s health facilities fully functioning, funding for the country’s aid operation is crucial with up to USD 2 billion required until the end of the year. The UN and Saudi Arabia will co-host a virtual pledging event on 2 June to support fund raising.
“We are heading towards a fiscal cliff”, said OCHA’s spokesperson. “If we do not get the money coming in, the programs that are keeping people alive and are very much essential to fight back against Covid will have to close. And then, the world will have to witness what happens in a country without a functioning health system battling Covid 19 and I do not think that one will see that”.
More than 30 key UN programmes risk closing in the coming weeks due to a funding lack. Covid Rapid Response Teams are funded only for the next six weeks.
According to the World Healths Organisation’s latest figures, Yemen has 184 cases of the disease and 30 deaths.
However, “the actual incidence is almost certainly much higher”, stated Jens Laerke. “Tests remain in short supply, aid agencies in Yemen are operating on the basis that community transmission is taking place across the country, and only half of the health facilities are fully functioning. Yemen’s health system needs significant assistance to counter the threat of Covid-19. Humanitarian aid agencies are scaling up outreach, prevention and case management. “
Some 125 metric tons of supplies have arrived, while over 6,600 metric tons of tests, personal protective equipment and Intensive Care Unit (ICU) supplies are in the pipeline.
However, oxygen and personal protective equipment are more urgently needed. Preserving large-scale existing aid programmes in health, water and sanitation, nutrition and other sectors also offers an essential defense against infection for millions of people.
On Tursday (21 May), a UN flight arrived in Yemen’s capital Aden with more international staff on board.
Laerke said that “colleagues both in and out of the country are working together to deliver critical programs, this includes some international staff working remotely as well as international staff remain in Yemen and Yemeni national staff. Yemeni national staff remain the large majority of aid workers in Yemen”.
The war in Yemen has been ongoing since 2014 when Houthis took control of Yemen’s north and captured the capital Sanaa, forcing the UN-recognized government there to flee to southern city of Aden. Since 2015, a Saudi-led coalition of mostly Arab countries has been battling the Houthi rebels to reinstate the government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi creating the world’s worst humanitarian crisis and leaving millions suffering from food and medical shortages.
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