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COVID-19: 97 medical staff die from virus as humanitarian crisis worsens in Yemen

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medical workers attend to a COVID-19 patient in an intensive care unit at a hospital in Sanaa, Yemen.
medical workers attend to a COVID-19 patient in an intensive care unit at a hospital in Sanaa, Yemen.   -   Copyright  Hani Mohammed/Associated Press
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97 medical workers in Yemen have died of coronavirus, the first reliable estimate to give a glimpse into the pandemic’s impact on the devastated health sector in the war-torn country, a humanitarian group has said.

The report by MedGlobal elies on accounts from Yemeni doctors tracking the deaths of colleagues to gauge the toll of the virus. The 97 dead include infectious disease experts, medical directors, midwives and pharmacists.

Even before the pandemic Yemen had just 10 doctors for every 10,000 people. The country's health system is in shambles after five years of war that has spawned the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. Half of its medical facilities are dysfunctional.

Yemen’s internationally-recognised government has reported 1,674 confirmed coronavirus infections and 469 deaths.

Meanwhile, the humanitarian crisis is growing worse with the UN warning on Wednesday that food shortages will rise sharply in parts of war-torn Yemen in the next six months, mainly because of the overall economic decline and the pandemic that has ripped through the Arab world’s poorest country.

A report by the World Food Program, the UN Children’s Fund and the Food and Agriculture Organization said the number of people facing high levels of acute food insecurity is expected to increase from 2 million to 3.2 million in the country’s south.

Yemen has been the site of the largest food crisis in the world, mostly because of the war that pits the country’s Houthi rebels against a Saudi-led coalition fighting on the side of the internationally recognized government.

Economic shocks, conflict, floods, desert locusts and now COVID-19 are creating a perfect storm that could reverse hard-earned food security gains in Yemen, the report said.

“Yemen is facing a crisis on multiple fronts,” said Laurent Bukera, the WFP director for Yemen. “We must act now. In 2019, thanks to a massive scale-up, WFP and partners were able to reverse the deterioration in the worst hit areas of Yemen.”

Yemen's conflict has killed more than 100,000 people and created the world’s worst humanitarian disaster, with more than 3 million people internally displaced and two-thirds of the population reliant on food assistance for survival.

Donor countries recently cut back on aid to Yemen amid the coronavirus pandemic and also due to concerns that the aid might not be reaching intended recipients in territories controlled by the Iran-backed Houthis.

“Yemen is again on the brink of a major food security crisis. ... Unless we receive the funding we need now, we won’t be able to do the same this time,” said Lise Grande, the U.N. humanitarian coordinator for Yemen.

She said the U.N. agencies faced the similar situation 18 months ago, but they were “generously funded” and “prevented a famine.”