Nine years of conflict have left two-thirds of Yemen’s 31.5 million people in acute need of humanitarian and protection services, and nearly 13 million people require urgent humanitarian health care, the World Health Organization warned Friday.
“Recent political talks have raised new hopes that lasting peace might finally be achievable in Yemen,” Dr. Annette Heinzelmann, who heads the WHO’s Yemen Health Emergency Team, told a UN press conference.
“Nevertheless, the country’s fragile health system is severely overburdened and edging closer to collapse, while international donor funding is insufficient to avert further deterioration of the country’s failing health services,” she warned.
The WHO doctor warned of Yemen becoming a forgotten humanitarian crisis.
On March 20, the Yemeni government announced an agreement with the Houthi rebel group after consultations in Switzerland to release 887 prisoners and abductees from both sides.
Heinzelmann said 540,000 Yemeni children under age 5 suffer from severe acute malnutrition with an immediate risk of death.
In addition, 46% of health facilities across the country are only partially functioning or entirely out of service due to staff shortages, funds, electricity, or medicines.
As of April 1, the Yemen Health Cluster – composed of 46 UN and non-governmental organizations – had received only $62 million – or 16% – of the $392 million needed to reach the 12.9 million most-vulnerable people with urgent and life-saving health assistance.
“Disease outbreaks – notably of measles, diphtheria, dengue, cholera, and polio – are accelerating Yemen’s deepening health crisis,” said the UN doctor.
“Mass displacements, overburdened health facilities, disruptions of water and sanitation networks, and low immunization coverage are triggering and spreading these disease outbreaks.”
In the first quarter of 2023, more than 13,000 new cases of measles, 8,777 cases of dengue fever, and 2,080 suspected cholera cases were reported.
But Heinzelmann said the actual numbers are likely much higher due to surveillance gaps.
The WHO also ensured life-saving care for 60,200 Yemeni children suffering from severe acute malnutrition with medical complications.
Since 2020, WHO, UNICEF, and the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization have administered an average of 25 million doses of WHO-prequalified vaccines yearly.
However, WHO and other UN agencies in Yemen have become targets of widespread fear-based disinformation campaigns on radio, television, and social media designed to undermine community trust in vaccination efforts.
“I must emphasize the consequences of Yemen becoming a forgotten humanitarian crisis,” said Heinzelmann.
“The international community must scale up its financial support to Yemen to avert untold human suffering and deaths in coming months.”
Last year, the Yemeni government and the Houthis signed a UN-brokered deal to free 2,000 prisoners, but their release was disrupted amid mutual accusations of agreement violations.
Yemen has been engulfed by violence and instability since 2014, when Iranian-aligned Houthi rebels captured much of the country, including the capital, Sanaa.