Third COVID wave engulfs Yemen with 99% of people unvaccinated

Yemenis are battling a third wave of COVID, which threatens 99% of the population who are unvaccinated, Oxfam said today.

Recorded cases of COVID have tripled and the death rate has risen by more than fivefold (420%) in the last month. Excluded from these figures are countless undiagnosed deaths of people in their homes due to the scarcity of tests and hospital beds. Nor does the official death toll of 1649 include the vast majority of Yemeni people who live in the north of the country where COVID-related data is not available.

Despite promises that COVAX, the global initiative to deliver vaccines, would achieve at least 23% vaccination coverage in all member countries by the end of this year, less than 1% of Yemen’s 30.5 million people have so far received one dose and only 0.05% of the population are fully vaccinated.

Half-way through the year the COVAX scheme was already short by 88% of the promised doses for Yemen, having delivered just 511,000 of 4.2 million. Fears that Yemen’s only source of vaccines to date will fail the country again increased last week when the initiative announced it was a half a billion doses short of its global supply target.

Muhsin Siddiquey, Oxfam’s in Yemen’s country director, said: “Yemen has the one of the highest COVID fatality rates in the world – it simply can’t cope with this virus. The conflict has decimated the already fragile healthcare system. Many people are very weak because they can’t afford to feed themselves properly or to buy basic medicines. Others are unable to afford the cost of transportation to a medical centre because of the ongoing fuel crisis.

“Vaccination is a simple solution that would save lives, but the international community is failing the people of Yemen who need doses now. We need the vaccines that have been promised but it is also shameful that having bought up all the vaccines for themselves rich countries like the UK and Germany are blocking the solutions that would see the rights and recipes of these lifesaving vaccines shared so that more can be produced for countries like Yemen. Protecting lives should be more important than protecting the outsized profits of pharmaceutical corporations who have already made billions from this crisis.”

Over four million Yemenis have been displaced during the conflict with around two million living in Marib, currently the site of fierce fighting. Conditions in the camps are dire, many people have no access to clean water, sanitation facilities or healthcare. Salma Qassem*, a midwife who has been living one of Marib’s camps for the last two years, said:

“I was first displaced six years ago. Some people here do not believe COVID exists. Though we have had many cases here in the camps, people haven’t yet realised that the pandemic is spreading. Shelter is the biggest obstacle for Internally Displaced People like us. Some people want to follow the precautions, but they can’t afford it for economic reasons. It is very difficult in terms of isolation for us to face COVID here in the camp especially if anyone is affected, how and where shall we isolate them?”

According to the UN two out of three Yemenis lack access to healthcare services. Seven years on from the start of the conflict, only an estimated half of healthcare facilities are still operating. An estimated 20 million Yemenis need healthcare assistance including 5.9 million children. Sources report that Yemen’s doctors in public hospitals have been working unpaid with some sleeping in hospitals and clinics as they cannot afford accommodation.

This year the UN requested donor countries to provide $3.9 billion for essential humanitarian aid – so far less than half has been donated with healthcare only receiving 11% of the funds it needs.

*Name changed to protect identity

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