Weakened by War and Hunger, Yemen Braces for Coronavirus

Hunched over sewing machines in a long abandoned factory in Yemen’s capital Sanaa, 20 women stitch face masks as a country ravaged by war, hunger and disease prepares for the arrival of a new epidemic. 

COVID-19 has yet to be documented in Yemen, but Abdel Ilah, who manages the factory that opened three days ago, is getting ready for its arrival. “Coronavirus is knocking on the whole world’s door,” he said. 

The five-year conflict has killed more than 100,000 and unleashed a humanitarian crisis in which many others have died. Yemen’s shattered healthcare infrastructure and already weakened population suggest the virus could wreak more havoc if takes hold. 

“It is a perfect storm of a disaster should this virus introduce itself,” the country’s World Health Organisation (WHO) representative, Altaf Musani, said. 

Cholera, dengue, malaria and poor sanitation are rife and around 80% of Yemenis are reliant on humanitarian aid while millions live on the brink of starvation, leaving them vulnerable to other forms of disease. 

COVID-19 has yet to be documented in Yemen, but Abdel Ilah, who manages the factory that opened three days ago, is getting ready for its arrival. “Coronavirus is knocking on the whole world’s door,” he said. 

The five-year conflict has killed more than 100,000 and unleashed a humanitarian crisis in which many others have died. Yemen’s shattered healthcare infrastructure and already weakened population suggest the virus could wreak more havoc if takes hold. 

“It is a perfect storm of a disaster should this virus introduce itself,” the country’s World Health Organisation (WHO) representative, Altaf Musani, said. 

Cholera, dengue, malaria and poor sanitation are rife and around 80% of Yemenis are reliant on humanitarian aid while millions live on the brink of starvation, leaving them vulnerable to other forms of disease.

Musani says the fragile health system operates at around 50% capacity and the emergence of coronavirus would “greatly overstretch” it. 

For Sanaa labourer Ahmed Abdel Karim, however, the virus is just one more danger among many. 

“Us Yemenis, we’re not scared of the disease because it comes from God, while we could die each day from enemy air strikes.”