Yemen: Emergency Care Under Fire

Published on December 15, 2015
In Taiz, an epicenter of the destruction in Yemen’s civil war, a recent medical graduate is among the skeleton crew providing care at Al-Thawra Hospital. In this active war zone, there are severe shortages of medical supplies and electricity—but no shortage of patients.

Smuggling an oxygen cylinder on foot past the blockade on the city of Taiz.

AN INTERVIEW WITH DR. AHMAD DOMAINY

A civil war suddenly broke out in Yemen, in March 2015. A group known as the Houthis, allied to the military units loyal to the former president, swept across the country causing the current president (elected after the Arab Spring) to flee. In response, a coalition led by Saudi Arabia began an aerial bombing effort. Intense battles have since occurred in residential areas of many major cities as ground forces loyal to the current president, Southern Separatists, along with other armed political and extremist groups, and Coalition ground forces all try to take control of the cities infiltrated by the Houthis and their allies.

In addition to an appalling number of civilian casualties and deaths (including many women and children), the infrastructure has become nonfunctional (electricity services, fuel services, garbage services, water and food delivery). Many have fled their homes and face a daily struggle to survive by finding food, water, and shelter in the face of scarcities, massive inflation, and lack of jobs and salaries. Unfortunately, medical services have not been spared, either. This month, the International Committee of the Red Cross insisted that deliberate attacks on healthcare facilities must stop. Hospitals are continually under shelling, bombing, and sniper attacks. Patients and staff have been injured and facilities have been damaged. Many hospitals have closed and those that continue to operate do so under extreme shortages of staff and supplies, as well as daily personal danger.

Dr. Ahmad Domainy, a recent medical school graduate, continues to work at Al-Thawra Hospital in the center of Taiz, the most severely affected city in Yemen. Taiz city has a population of approximately 1 million people, and Al-Thawra serves patients from the entire governorate, which has a population of about 3 million people. Of the approximately 25 hospitals in the city, only five remain somewhat functional. Approximately 600,000 people have fled their homes, becoming “internally displaced persons.”

“At the beginning of the war, most of the medical and administrative staff left the hospital,” said Domainy. “Our staff decreased from 350 to 150. Due to the dangers of traveling, most of us were forced to live in the hospital itself.

“Because of my posting about war crimes on Facebook, I am afraid to return to my home as I am certain that my name and photo are in the hands of the militias running the checkpoints. I fear I will be abducted or killed.

"If all of us left, who would care for these patients?"

“[At the hospital], we are constantly exposed to mortar fire, artillery fire, and sniper attacks. So far, 15 of the medical staff have been wounded. One of our paramedics was shot in the head and killed while trying to rescue the injured in his ambulance. Our intensive care unit was shelled and totally destroyed. The shelling took the life of one of our nurses.

“For seven months now we have not received any salaries. There has been no money to purchase medications for the patients, and there has been no money for lab test solutions. We have been able to find some charitable individuals who have helped with the some of the costs. But because of the siege on the city and country there is an extreme shortage of medications and IV solutions. The blockade has even prevented oxygen tanks from entering the city. At great risk we have found ways to smuggle in oxygen and medications through the blockade away from the eyes of the invaders.

“There has been very limited electricity and not enough diesel to fuel the main hospital generator. We use several small generators to power the x-ray machine, OR, and lab. In spite of this, we have been able to offer some care to an average of 50 wounded patients a day. During recent months, the arrival of the rainy season in conjunction with the buildup of garbage in the city, has brought on a dengue fever epidemic. We had been accepting over 100 cases a day of dengue fever and malaria. So we decided to open a special unit to treat Dengue Fever and, with the help of some charitable individuals, we have been able to treat many patients free of charge when we could find the supplies to do so.

“Those of us who have stayed to work believe it is our holy duty to do so. If all of us left, who would care for these patients? We need training, supplies and medical charities to help us out. You may not know who we are. But please know that in this spot in the world there are people who just want to live but are dying because of the work of the enemies of life.”

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