EYEWITNESS: PANDEMIC IN A CONFLICT ZONE

Six stories from the people taking on COVID-19 and rising public fear at one hospital in Yemen

MSF nurse assistant Ansaf working at Sheikh Zayed COVID-19 center in Sana’a

MSF nurse assistant Ansaf working at Sheikh Zayed COVID-19 center in Sana’a © MSF/Maya Abu Ata

MSF nurse assistant Ansaf working at Sheikh Zayed COVID-19 center in Sana’a © MSF/Maya Abu Ata

Crippled by years of brutal conflict, hospitals across Yemen have been pushed to the edge.

Now, as COVID-19 infections rise across the country, fear and misinformation are spreading, too. Added to the impact of the civil war, communities could be cut off from healthcare altogether.

Stories from Sheikh Zayed

At Sheikh Zayed Hospital in the Yemeni capital Sana’a, MSF recently started supporting a new COVID-19 treatment centre. However, only half of the 20 beds for patients with moderate coronavirus symptoms are currently occupied.

Many people regard hospitals as a source of infection, while some believe sinister rumours about what happens inside to patients who have symptoms of COVID-19. Others are fearful of being stigmatised by their communities if they test positive for the disease.

As a result, many Yemenis are not seeking medical care until their condition is serious.

Scroll down to read first-hand testimony from staff and patients at the hospital...

Dr Abdulrahman | Medical doctor

"Oxygen consumption is very high. Patients in a critical condition in the ICU can consume up to 10 bottles of oxygen a day. Your eyes have to be on the patient, the monitor and the oxygen meter at all times.

"It’s my duty to come to this hospital every day and provide a meaningful service"
I’m concerned about possible infection, especially with all the news about health workers contracting the virus. But I’m a doctor; it’s impossible for me to stay home - there are shortages of medical staff both in this hospital and countrywide.

It’s my duty to come to this hospital every day and provide a meaningful service to people while I can.

While we’ve noticed more patients with moderate symptoms coming to the hospital, many others are arriving very late and need to go to intensive care straight away."

Dr Abdulrahman working in the COVID-19 treatment centre

Dr Abdulrahman working in the COVID-19 treatment centre © MSF/Maya Abu Ata

Dr Abdulrahman working in the COVID-19 treatment centre © MSF/Maya Abu Ata

Ansaf | Nurse assistant

"I contracted COVID-19 while protecting people and performing my duty. I started isolating myself and followed the advice - I also worked on my psychological state, telling myself that this time will pass.

"I did not wish to see people in the same pain I experienced"
After the illness, I resumed working because of my determination and desire to tackle this pandemic. I did not wish to see people in the same pain I experienced.

I wanted to help people, and to come back stronger to aid them."

Ansaf, an MSF nurse assistant at Sheikh Zayed

Ansaf, an MSF nurse assistant at Sheikh Zayed © MSF/Maya Abu Ata

Ansaf, an MSF nurse assistant at Sheikh Zayed © MSF/Maya Abu Ata

Nabil | 40-year-old patient

"When I was first admitted, I was in constant need of oxygen, it was even difficult to walk. I lost my sense of smell and taste and I couldn’t eat normally.

I was in a private hospital before, but I couldn’t afford the treatment there. Here, the doctors and nurses have been checking on me around the clock.

"Once I leave, I plan to raise awareness in my community about coming to hospital early"
It has been difficult being in this room, away from my family, as no visits were allowed. But I've been in contact with them on the phone. I’ve been in this hospital for 19 days and I’m told I’ll be discharged tomorrow.

Once I leave, I plan to raise awareness in my community about coming to hospital early. As soon as people start experiencing symptoms of the virus, they should go before it’s too late.

There are rumours going around at the moment, but they are false. They are nothing but lies. The evidence is that here I am, in Sheikh Zayed hospital, and I’ve recovered.”  

Nabil has now been discharged from hospital and is back with his family

COVID-19 patient Nabil was recently discharged from Sheikh Zayed

COVID-19 patient Nabil was recently discharged from Sheikh Zayed © MSF/Maya Abu Ata

COVID-19 patient Nabil was recently discharged from Sheikh Zayed © MSF/Maya Abu Ata

Nawfal | Logistician

"My main daily concern is securing oxygen. Do we have enough today for the patients whose lives depend on it?

All the hospitals need this life-saving substance, so there is a lot of pressure on suppliers.

"The fear we might run out of oxygen is constant because consumption is so high"
There are limited cylinders and noticeable delays in deliveries, but it's my job to make sure the hospital always has what it needs.

The fear we might run out of oxygen is constant because consumption is so high. There is always a time of the day, nearing dusk, when we see that our reserve quantity is coming to an end and the tension starts to rise.  

It can be a nerve-wracking job, but it’s very rewarding."

Oxygen being delivered to the inpatient department at Sheikh Zayed COVID-19 centre

Oxygen being delivered to the inpatient department at Sheikh Zayed COVID-19 centre © MSF/Maya Abu Ata

Oxygen being delivered to the inpatient department at Sheikh Zayed COVID-19 centre © MSF/Maya Abu Ata

Khairiya | 75-year-old patient

“When my son brought me to Sheikh Zayed hospital, I was taken immediately to the intensive care unit.

I had collapsed at home. I was coughing a lot and I had a fever and a sore throat, but now the cough is not as bad.

"I’m so looking forward to being with my family again"
I’ve been in this hospital for 10 days now, and my son visits me every day but stays far away. One of the hospital staff delivers my messages to him and his messages back to me.

I’m so looking forward to being with my family again.”  

Khairiya has now been discharged from hospital and is back with her family

Khairiya, a 75-year-old patient at MSF's COVID-19 centre who was recently discharged

Khairiya, a 75-year-old patient at MSF's COVID-19 centre who was recently discharged © MSF/Maya Abu Ata

Khairiya, a 75-year-old patient at MSF's COVID-19 centre who was recently discharged © MSF/Maya Abu Ata

Muthanna | Infection prevention and control supervisor

"As well as supporting staff in the hospital, I also advise people in the community on how to stem the spread of the virus and get early medical care. However, some people are circulating false information and baseless rumours through social media.

"People are circulating false information and baseless rumours through social media"
We see patients who are terrified, for their loved ones and for themselves. I saw one patient who had asked a nurse to sit with him and help him write his will in case something bad happened to him.

I tell people to stay optimistic, strong and determined and keep in their minds that they can overcome this disease and recover.

We are all are working at maximum capacity to provide the best possible medical services."

Muthanna talking with medical staff about infection prevention and control

Muthanna talking with medical staff about infection prevention and control © MSF/Maya Abu Ata

Muthanna talking with medical staff about infection prevention and control © MSF/Maya Abu Ata

MSF UK | Lower Ground Floor, Chancery Exchange, 10 Furnival Street, London, EC4A 1AB | +44 (0)207 404 6600 | English Charity Reg. No. 1026588 · Contact us · Privacy, cookies and our promise to you · Modern slavery statement · Jobs in the office · Gift Aid explained