The health situation in the Yemeni city of Taiz is dire. The people there are suffering as a result of a brutal military offensive and siege that is cutting the city off from the outside world.
Taiz city lies 256 km south of the capital Sana’a, and it is the most heavily populated city in Yemen (it has an estimated population of 2, 3393,000 according to the 2004 census, which is 12.2% of the total population), and it is one of the epicentres of the revolt against President Salih.
Since the start of the conflict in Yemen in January, the health situation has been badly affected, along with other basic services including water, electricity, and education.
On the 1 June, the security forces carried out an offensive against the demonstrators gathering in “Sahat Al Tagheer” or “the square of change.” The offensive has also targeted wounded demonstrators who were taken to nearby hospitals.
News reports mentioned that the security forces broke into Al Safwa Hospital, which is a private hospital, situated near Sahat Al Tagheer and arrested some of the medical staff and patients as well.
Witnesses say that the security forces attacked the hospital and assaulted the staff, and destroyed some of the departments (including the intensive care unit and operation theatres). They then left and took many of those wounded during the clashes with them, to an as yet unknown destination, despite the critical condition of some of the wounded.
A short clip of the signs of destruction inside this hospital after the attack can be seen on YouTube.
In another news report, a doctor was killed on the same day with six others in Jamal Street, the main shopping street in Taiz, when the security forces opened fire on demonstrators there.
On Sunday 5 June, Yemeni security forces used tanks and live ammunition against gunmen who stormed the presidential palace in Taiz.
The clashes in Taiz left at least two anti government gunmen dead and four soldiers wounded, witnesses said.
As part of the security forces attempt to prevent demonstrators from gathering from nearby rural areas and going into the city, many military check points have been placed on the main roads. These check points are preventing patients coming from villages, where medical services are lacking, into the city to seek treatment.
In another development, the security forces and officers of the Republican Guard (the elite forces of President Salih) have warned the hospitals (particularly private hospitals, as medical care is already lacking in government hospitals), not to provide treatment for anyone they suspect was injured during the clashes with the security forces, and to report these cases immediately to the military head quarters. Some of the medical staff refused to comply with these orders, which led to the arrest of some of them, as happened with the arrest of Dr Sadiq Al Ebel, on 22 May from a hospital in Taiz who kept on treating wounded demonstrators against military commands.
As for now, the Yemeni security forces and the military are preventing any reporters from entering Taiz city to witness the horrible situation there.
There is a near total lack of electricity in Taiz now. The government supply electricity for about an average of 4 hours a day. This has obviously affected people and hospitals as well. Since the clashes intensified on the 1 June, there has been a shortage in the supply of petrol and diesel products which led to many hospitals switching off their power generators during the day. This has affected the validity of many drugs that need to be stored in the fridge (e.g. insulin, heparin, and vaccinations).
A shortage of water in Taiz is another problem; although this is not new, it is getting worse. Due to the lack of a proper water supply to the city, many parts of the city depend on water trucks to supply them with water for household use from nearby valleys. Due to the shortage of fuel and the difficulty in transportation, water prices have soared and many families are able to buy only one share of water per month (rather than once a week or every ten days as before).
Taiz city has one of the highest rates of infectious diseases in Yemen (including malaria and haemorrhagic fever), and although there are no reports of an outbreak now, it is very likely that such outbreaks will happen especially with the high temperatures that the city is experiencing now.
In a phone interview with Mohammed Al Samawi, consultant nephrologist at Al Thawra Hospital in Taiz, he confirmed reports of abuse and arrests against doctors and patients. He said that people are suffering as a result of the military siege of Taiz. The price of medications has soared as transportation links with the city have been cut and also because the Yemeni currency value has fallen.
Al Samawi mentioned that most of the doctors are finding it difficult to continue their work due to lack of security. He also said that most of the foreign medical staff who used to work in Taiz have left the city due to the current situation, which has worsened the already weakened health care services there.
The first kidney transplantations were carried out in Taiz in the Yemen International Hospital in January this year. Before that patients had to travel to the capital to get this operation done. But due to the current situation it might not be possible to provide this service for patients.
Many of Al Samawi’s patients who need regular follow up due to chronic kidney problems, or kidney transplant patients are unable to see him as they are unable to enter the city. “Many patients call me and say that they are trapped in the check point outside the city and can not attend their appointment, and they ask me ‘what shall we do?’” I can only answer that, “I don’t know.”
Al Samawi sends his plea, on behalf of all the doctors in Taiz, for the international community and medical aid agencies to provide some relief for the people who are suffering an intolerable situation.
Yasir Hameed is a core psychiatry trainee, Norfolk and Waveney Mental Health NHS Trust
Sources:The information in this blog is from conversations that Yasir Hameed has had with colleagues currently in Yemen and the following websites:
http://yemenrightsmonitor.blogspot.com/ (very disturbing graphic content)