COVID-19 update: Yemeni authorities shift blame to international organizations as coronavirus cases begin to rise
Yemen’s Supreme National Emergency Committee for Coronavirus and the Ministry of Health on Friday accused international organizations operating in Yemen of failing to provide sufficient support to the health sector's capabilities and cooperation to confront the COVID-19 pandemic. The accusations came after five confirmed cases of the virus were reported in the interim capital Aden, including two deaths.
During a virtual meeting on Friday, Minister of Public Health and Population Dr. Nasser Ba'oum and the spokesman of the emergency committee, Dr. Ali Al-Waleedi, they said that there was a significant failure by the World Health Organization (WHO) and other international organizations to respond to the requests by Yemeni health authorities for more health equipment and support.
Health Minister Ba’oum accused the WHO and the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) of “complicity” in hiding the cases of COVID-19 in Sana’a, and said they “had not fulfilled the most basic duties towards liberated governorates where land, sea and air access are available.”
“For three months we were asking them to provide test rods for the ear and pharynx, which WHO has never provided since the start of the global corona outbreak,” the health minister said. On Feb. 28, he sent a memorandum to WHO's regional director, Dr. Ahmed Al-Mandhari, requesting four coronavirus testing devices. But according to Ba’oum, these devices have not been provided.
On April 25, Altaf Musani, WHO’s representative in Yemen, said during a public briefing delivered via Facebook that “37 hospitals across the country have been allocated to receive COVID-19 infected patients, 32 of whom have received the necessary equipment, seven of which are fully operational.”
“World Health is working closely with health authorities across Yemen to address the epidemic and take action,” he said. “WHO currently has three laboratories in Mukalla, Sana'a, Aden, which can conduct tests for new corona disease," he said, noting that "laboratories require experts to conduct tests and sample potential patients, as well as necessary disclosures, to determine whether the virus is present in the infected person."
“There are 333 teams in every region of Yemen, and the numbers will increase, so that they can address the rumors that come every day from all over Yemen," he said. "With the first case of corona in Yemen, we will move from the alert stage to the response stage.”
The Houthis have also leveled accusations against WHO, accusing it of requiring confirmed cases before providing sufficient support. The Houthis said they had only provided the government of Sana’a with 30 temperature-checking devices.
As of Saturday evening, the WHO country office had not responded to Almasdar Online's request about the accusations by health authorities in Yemen.
Yemen’s Supreme National Emergency Committee for Coronavirus confirmed Thursday that two of the five patients in Aden who tested positive for COVID-19 had passed away. On Friday, the emergency committee confirmed one case of COVID-19 in Taiz governorate, and today two more cases in Aden and one in Taiz were confirmed, bringing the total number of confirmed cases to 10.
The announcement of new cases has heightened concerns that the true number of cases is likely much higher, and shattered the sense of optimism some Yemenis felt after it was announced on April 27 that the sole confirmed COVID-19 patient at the time, a Yemeni man in Hadhramout governorate, had recovered.
But fear returned after the committee announced on April 29 that five others had contracted the virus in the interim capital Aden in the south of the country, and confirmed the deaths of two of them on April 23.
In recent days, activists and Yemeni doctors have been raising concerns on social media that dozens of ill people have died after exhibiting symptoms similar to COVID-19, but that they were not tested for the disease. Relatedly, on Thursday, two medical sources and a WHO staff member told Almasdar Online English that at least two cases of coronavirus were detected in the capital, Sana'a.
The UN has warned of the severe risk posed by the spread of the deadly virus. “Relief agencies are very concerned about the rapid spread of coronavirus in Yemen,” according to a statement issued by the Office of the United Nations Resident Coordinator and the Humanitarian Affairs Coordinator in Yemen.
“From the first case of coronavirus, we have warned that the virus is now in Yemen and may spread rapidly,” Lise Grande, UN humanitarian coordinator, said in the statement. “All the factors are here, low levels of general immunity, high levels of vulnerability, and a fragile and overburdened health system."
As a result of the ongoing war, which is now in its sixth year, about 80 percent of Yemen's population, or 24 million people, need humanitarian assistance, and millions are on the brink of famine. Yemen faces severe shortages of ventilators and protective clothing, while only half of the country's medical facilities are working and are struggling to cope with outbreaks of other diseases such as cholera and dengue fever.
Editing by Alkhatab Alrawhani