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COVID-19 Outbreak Overwhelms Yemeni City Of Aden

In Yemen’s hospitals, the medical staff have become the patients. With the beds filled, sick members of the public are turned away, and aid groups say a “catastrophe” is unfolding.

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Doctors Without Borders says that a catastrophe is unfolding in the Yemeni city of Aden. Doctors and aid workers talk of hospitals being overwhelmed and of the ill dying in their homes. And as NPR’s Ruth Sherlock reports, the doctors themselves are falling ill.

RUTH SHERLOCK, BYLINE: Yemen is divided between warring armies. And it already faces a humanitarian crisis. There’s famine and widespread disease, like cholera and dengue. Official numbers for the spread of the coronavirus are unreliable. But Dr. Amr Al-Turkey (ph) a critical care physician in Aden, knows people are dying.

AMR AL-TURKEY: Many of the people there die daily.

SHERLOCK: Yemen’s health care system has already collapsed in the war and now Al-Turkey says the country is losing doctors.

AL-TURKEY: They are sick. Many doctors, they are sick by the disease.

SHERLOCK: Al-Turkey himself came down with COVID-19 and has recovered. But as the hospital staff gets sick, they have to turn away more patients. The situation is repeated across the city. The authorities in Aden say around 40 people have died of COVID-19. But the real numbers are higher. Doctors Without Borders, or MSF, run the only dedicated coronavirus medical center in the city. And they say they’ve registered a hundred dead in the last month alone. Thierry Durand is the operations coordinator for the MSF clinic, and he’s just left Aden.

THIERRY DURAND: And even the caregivers, the doctors, feel a bit powerless.

SHERLOCK: He says they desperately lack equipment like ventilators. And he says, yes, staff and their families are also falling ill.

DURAND: One of our doctor in the hospital also brought his mother during the night. In the morning, she was dead. And he’s now sick.

SHERLOCK: Aden is losing prominent medical specialists.

DURAND: We had the most prominent dentist of the city who died. You had one of the most prominent neurologists of the city who died.

SHERLOCK: The coronavirus is also spreading in the capital, Sanaa. I reach Dr. Areej Haider (ph), a medical student who works in a public hospital there.

AREEJ HAIDER: The situation is very bad. There is shortage of medical supplies. There is shortage of personnel protection equipment.

SHERLOCK: She says doctors have written a joint letter to the authorities in Sanaa to appeal for help. She personally knows three doctors who have already died from COVID-19. And she says her supervisor contracted the illness.

HAIDER: He was lucky. The – all emergency doctors were supporting him and supporting his management.

SHERLOCK: Many of the doctors her supervisor trained have gone abroad. But when they heard he was sick, they got on the phone.

HAIDER: They’re giving advice either remotely and two of our colleagues, they were, like, sitting with him at the hospital.

SHERLOCK: The young medics sat by his bedside for 10 days adjusting the settings on his ventilator. He survived, but Haider says Yemen doesn’t usually have the capacity for that level of care.

HAIDER: It’s huge need to keep one person alive, and this is not provided in the country.

SHERLOCK: If this is what it takes for one doctor to receive good medical care, she says, imagine how much worse it is for other Yemenis who get the disease. Ruth Sherlock, NPR News.

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