The World Health Organization (WHO) has confirmed seven cases of the coronavirus (COVID-19) in south Yemen so far, with two fatalities.
The international organisation suspects, however, that the virus is actively circulating undetected in the country.
In a statement on Saturday, the WHO’s Regional Office for the Eastern Mediterranean said best practices have shown virus transmission can be controlled when people are informed and warned about outbreaks early on. There is also a need to put in place measures to test, trace, isolate and care for cases.
After five years of war, Yemen’s health system is fragile and faces catastrophic shortages, with supplies needed to combat the coronavirus in the country insufficient.
Since the pandemic was declared, the WHO has warned the virus may potentially affect 16 million people in Yemen, or over 50% of the population. The WHO has presented various evidence-based scenarios to ensure that Yemen’s health authorities have the full picture on the potential threat.
“Yemen’s health system is fragile and the emergence of COVID-19 could be catastrophic, overwhelming already ravaged hospitals, health facilities and health care workers,” said Ahmed Al-Mandhari, the WHO’s Regional Director for the Eastern Mediterranean Region.
In a media briefing last Tuesday, Al-Mandhari said that over 13 million Yemenis a month are dependent on food assistance. A total of 2.5 million children under five require nutritional support, and 8.8 million require health care. The lack of nutrition makes them more susceptible to infectious diseases like the coronavirus, due to compromised immunity.
The WHO has emphasised its support for the Yemeni people and the country’s health system, as it anticipates that community transmission is already taking place across the country.
Yemeni Health authorities have expanded their coronavirus treatment capacities in four central public health laboratories in Sana’a, Aden, Sayoun, and Taiz. These have full capacity to test for the virus. Four more public health laboratories will soon have similar capacity.
The WHO has warned the pandemic will continue in Yemen as long as even one case is unidentified and not properly treated, isolated and contacts traced.