Sunday, August 16, 2015
By Dr Tammam Aloudat
Dr Tammam Aloudat, Deputy Medical Director for MSF, just returned from an assessment in Ibb, Yemen. He describes the health and humanitarian needs in this personal account.
As we entered the nutrition department of the Mother and Child hospital, a woman sitting at the edge of a bed glanced over at us with suspicion. Strangers usually do not accompany medical staff at this time of the day. The baby was breathing fast and he seemed in pain. I asked his mother’s permission to examine him. She seemed more relaxed once I spoke to her in Arabic. I told her I worked with MSF, and that we were visiting Ibb to assess the health situation and explore ways to support healthcare facilities, which are struggling under a blockade, airstrikes and the war.
The hospital director briefed my colleagues as I continued my conversation with the mother. She told me she had come from a village two hours from Ibb. The worried mother said that her five-month-old was suffering from severe diarrhea and vomiting. As I examined the baby, the pediatrician told me that the baby was suffering from dehydration but had already improved after one day of treatment. The mother smiled as she heard the good news, but soon her face turned gloomy again. When I asked her why, she said she and her husband had had to pay 15,000 YR (around 75 USD) to reach the hospital, and they would have to pay the same to go back; an amount that very few Yemenis can afford and will leave the family in debt for a long time to come.
This is my second visit to Yemen. Since I last came in 2011 some things have not changed at all, such as the kindness and hospitality of people, but also the long power cuts. However, many things have changed for the worse. Today, long queues of cars wait in front of petrol stations, and checkpoints have increased. Yemen’s quiet nights have turned noisy, filled with the sounds of airstrikes and anti-aircraft guns. For me, the biggest difference was that the general sense of optimism had turned into desperation and fear for the future. It is sadly a justified fear, as Yemenis are today living through one of the worst armed conflicts MSF has ever seen.
Later, during a trip to one of Ibb’s schools where people have sought refuge, we met families who had come to the city fleeing areas witnessing fighting or severe bombardment. Many had come from Ta’iz and Al Dhale’, while others had made the long trip from Sana’a or even Sa’ada. Around 20 men and several curious boys gathered around us to chat. Most of the boys stood next to their fathers or older brothers, but one five-year-old boy stood next to me, his tiny hand clinging to my shirt. I was unable to fully concentrate on the discussion as I was reflecting on the inhumane conditions under which Yemen’s children are forced to live today. Most of us in the West can receivemental support after a traumatic event, but the children of Yemen are witnessing a ruthless war, have been forced from their homes and are being deprived of basic needs, healthcare, school and even food, all while their families struggle to survive. I passed my fingers through the boys’ hair in an attempt to offer him some warmth and compassion; two things that are currently in short supply for Yemeni children.
It was the voice of my colleague that brought me back to the conversation. Pointing at me, he was telling a man, “Speak to the doctor.” A tall man with a tired smile, wearing an old shirt and a traditional Yemeni Futah, (a wraparound skirt or kilt) approached me. He explained that he had a heart condition and described how his health had deteriorated since arriving in Ibb. He smiled when I asked him why it had taken him so long to come to hospital. He said that even if the consultation was free, he had no money to buy medicine.
Soon, the discussion turned to the topic of food shortages. During Ramadan, the people living in schools had been offered some food for the Iftar (the evening meal that breaks the daily fast) by their neighbours. Those donations had mostly stopped after Ramadan. International aid organisations are not providing any food aid to the people living in schools, and they cannot afford it by themselves. Yemeni children, who have already suffered from decades of malnutrition, will suffer more if the world does not provide food and medicine to them. Yet efforts in this regard are being hindered by the blockade, fighting and constant bombings.
Yemen is experiencing a ruthless war. I hope next time I visit the country, the war will be over. Until then, MSF will continue to serve the Yemeni people and to project their voices to the world, so that people everywhere else will know the reality beyond the headlines, which talks only about victories, retreats and negotiations.
A Yemeni political activist said that Saudi Arabia has stepped up its unequivocal support to al-Qaeda terrorists and pro-Hadi militias operating in southern Yemen in order to break up the strategic seaport city for its own interests. “The Saudi regime is attempting to partition Yemen’s Aden as the southern city has a very strategic port. The United Arab Emirate (UAE) is seeking to break up Aden as well in a bid to exploit the resources of the key area,” Ismail Muttahar al-Shami made the remarks on the sidelines of the 8th General Assembly of Islamic Radios and TVs Union (IRTVU) in Tehran in an exclusive interview with the Tasnim News Agency on Sunday. He added that the Ansarullah resistance group is a popular movement which is fighting against the al-Qaeda, a terrorist group which is enjoying the full support of the Saudi regime. "Also, militias loyal to fugitive Yemeni president Mansour Hadi are closely aligned with the al-Qaeda militants. Al-Qaeda terrorists and pro-Hadi militants are being supported by Saudi Arabia as well as the US." Asked about the main reason behind Saudi war on Yemen, Muttahar al-Shami replied, “Saudi Arabia decided to attack Yemen when it (Yemen) moved to become an independent country. The Saudi regime has waged war against the Arab country as it has always sought to force Yemen to follow its polices.” Elsewhere in the interview, the Yemeni journalist and activist touched upon the issue of the humanitarian situation in the Arab country, and said, “(it) is getting worse. Yemeni people are suffering from a severe shortage of medicine and medical supplies. Large groups of people have been left abandoned. Hospitals in Yemen are in a desperate situation, scores of people are dying due to lack of oxygen and blood. Hospitals have intermittent electricity and cannot resume their services to people.” Al-Shami further lambasted the silence of the international community over the massacre of innocent people by Saudi Arabia in Yemen, and said, “I really do not know why the international community has remained silent over the Saudi aggression against Yemen. I only know that all international organizations and the UN follow the US policies in regard to Yemen. They (Saudi Arabia, US) are all benefiting from this war. They are furious because main Yemenis’ slogan is “God is great, Death to America, Death to Israel and Islam will become triumphant”.” The Sana’a-based political analyst called on various media outlets to support the Yemeni people by extensive coverage of the Arab country’s developments. “Organizing international seminars and conferences about the Saudi war on Yemen can also play a leading role in ending the crisis in the impoverished country," he went on to add. The 8th General Assembly of Islamic Radios and TVs Union (IRTVU) was opened this morning in a special ceremony held at the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) International Conference Hall in Tehran. Various national and international officials including former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, IRIB Chief Mohammad Sarafraz, and International Adviser to Supreme Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ali Akbar Velayati were attending the ceremony. The summit is attended by 220 TV and radio channels from 35 countries of the world. On the sidelines of the General Assembly, a Media Technology Exhibition was also opened by Velayati and Karimian, the conference secretary. The motto “The Prophet of Mercy; The Mission of Resistance Media” is chosen for the 8th General Assembly.