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Yemen: Houthis And The Civilians’ Health During The COVID-19

By: Khaled A. BaRahma

Photo: Yemen, July 7, 2021. - -/AFP via Getty Images

Houthi authorities in Yemen have suppressed information about the dangers and impact of Covid-19 and undermined international efforts to provide vaccines in areas under their control, Human Rights Watch said today. Houthi officials have actively disseminated misinformation about the virus and vaccine since the outbreak in Yemen began in April 2020.

On April 15, the Office of the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs of the United Nations, Mark Lowcock, warned that the number of confirmed cases of Covid-19 in Yemen had doubled since the outbreak started. Houthi authorities in Sanaa refuse, however, to release information regarding deaths and injuries. The Houthis have not distributed vaccines in their territory. In addition to facilitating efforts to provide vaccines, the Houthi authorities should stop spreading misinformation about the virus.

Yemeni lives are at risk due to the Houthi authorities' desire to conceal the number of Covid-19 cases and their opposition to vaccines, according to Human Rights Watch's deputy Middle East director Michael Page. “It is not an acceptable mitigation strategy to pretend that Covid-19 doesn't exist, as doing so will lead to widespread suffering”.

A group of Yemeni health workers from Sanaa, three Yemeni doctors living overseas, and one international health worker working on Covid-19 response efforts were interviewed by Human Rights Watch between mid-April and early May. Due to Fearing retaliation, they requested to remain anonymous. In videos about the aforementioned virus and vaccines, Human Rights Watch (HRW) reviewed and verified disinformation spread by Houthi officials. A request for comment from the Houthi Health Ministry and Foreign Ministry has not been received.

According to the Houthi-controlled Health Ministry in Sanaa, Yemen's capital, there have only been two recoveries and one death resulting from Covid-19 since the pandemic began. As a result of informal indications, the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has warned that cases in the north are increasing. It was reported in March by Doctors without Borders that their teams in Yemen had seen a drastic increase in cases of Covid-19.

Six years of war have wrecked Yemen's healthcare system. According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), Yemen should receive 14 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines through the Covid-19 Global Access Program (COVAX Facility). These doses could vaccinate 23 percent of Yemen's population.

Approximately 360,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine were given to Yemen as a first batch on March 31. In total, Yemen is scheduled to receive 1.9 million doses by the end of 2021. Yemen Covid-19's national vaccination plan prioritizes healthcare workers, older adults, people with chronic illnesses, and social groups not able to physically distance themselves, such as internally displaced people and refugees, during the first phase of its vaccination campaign.

It is intended that Sanaa, Ibb governorate, and Hodeida governorate, the areas under Houthi control, will be provided with vaccines. However, one medical source interviewed who has direct knowledge of the circumstances said the group’s failure to cooperate with the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Houthi’s forces have prevented any vaccines from reaching the north. Due to this reason, vaccinations are currently only offered in the south.

WHO representative to Yemen, Adham Rashad Abdel-Moneim, told participants in a virtual conference organized by HPY-UK, a UK-based charity organization on April 23 that Houthi authorities originally agreed to accept 10,000 doses of vaccine under pressure. The vaccines were unable to be delivered after the Houthi authorities stated only the Houthi's forces could distribute the vaccines without supervision from WHO. The organization turned down the offer because the organization would need to ensure the vaccines will be diverted without any risk. The WHO reported on its Facebook page the following day that the Houthi authorities had asked for 1,000 doses rather than 10,000 and that in the second batch of vaccines, the northern share would be increased. Aden governorate's Healthcare Ministry took delivery of 10,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccines to the WHO for use in Houthi-controlled areas on May 8th, according to the internationally recognized Yemeni government.

Disinformation has been spread by numerous Houthi officials regarding Covid-19, claiming it to be a conspiracy. Houthi leader Abdul Malik Al-Houthi claimed the virus was created by American conspirators in a televised talkshow in March 2020 on the Houthi-funded Al-Masirah channel. "Covid-19 is primarily American's fault, it has been widely reported that Americans have worked for years to take advantage of the Coronavirus and spread it to certain societies." as he said. The symptoms of Covid-19 have been reported in the death certificates of several Houthi officials. According to the international media, Houthi forces suppressed information regarding the pandemic and intimidated members of the local community in 2020. Covid-19 testing was also reportedly black-marketed by Houthi militants, while they refused to take precautions against the virus.

According to the interviewees, the Houthis refuse to acknowledge the pandemic so that the economy can remain open, and the political elite can defraud businesses by imposing exorbitant fees. The Sanaa Center for Strategic Studies claims that over the past two years the Houthis have become more profitable through predatory and corrupt practices.

The international-recognized Yemeni government-backed health authorities, unlike the Houthi authorities, have consistently reported the number of confirmed cases and warned about the possibility of a second wave of cases in 2020. Yemen reported 4,119 confirmed cases and 864 deaths in the first quarter, OCHA said in April 2021.

Both during the first and the second wave of the pandemic, health workers have paid a heavy price, an association of Yemeni doctors living abroad, reports that at least 150 Yemeni doctors have died from COVID-19. Raising awareness about the COVID-19 crisis in Yemen is mandatory.

To sum up briefly, in war-torn Yemen, the Yemen's top diplomat is urging the international community to send more COVID-19 vaccines as soon as possible.



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