Insecurity drives health workers out of Yemen

January 2016


"I can endure financial hardship and the long hours, but when these challenges are compounded by increasing insecurity and the frightening sounds of bombs, I want to leave Yemen for the safety of my family," says Dr Mohammed Al-Kholaidi, who works at the Mental Health Department in the Yemen Ministry of Public Health and Population.

Dr Al-Kholaidi in a consultation with a patient, Yemen.
Dr Al-Kholaidi is considering leaving Yemen due to increasing insecurity.
WHO Yemen/S Al-Wesabi

With 2 masters’ degrees, a doctorate in mental health and neurological diseases and 8 years of professional experience, Dr Al-Kholaidi is an asset to Yemen’s weakened health system. If he leaves, the country will be short another doctor. Currently, the country has around 3 doctors per 10 000 people - compared with Switzerland, for example, which has 40 doctors for the same number of people.

Since March 2015, the conflict in Yemen has intensified, pushing the country’s health system to the brink of collapse. Insecurity, power shortages and a lack of fuel to power generators and ambulances have led to the closure of almost 1 in 4 health facilities.

Many health workers have already fled the country. Supplies of medicines and medical supplies have been disrupted. Limited funding is taking a toll on the Government’s capacity to continue operating health facilities and patients’ ability to pay for services.

Dr Al-Kholaidi sees a steady stream of patients entering the clinic for treatment and support. Many suffer from anxiety, depression, chronic insomnia, post-traumatic stress disorder or obsessive-compulsive disorders.

"I am also suffering from vicarious trauma, as I'm dealing with dozens of patients every day. The stories I hear are so miserable and people’s situations are becoming more difficult.”

Dr Mohammed Al-Kholaidi, Mental Health Department, Yemen Ministry of Public Health and Population

WHO estimates that, in armed conflicts throughout the world, 10% of people who experience traumatic events will have serious mental health problems and another 10% will develop conditions like depression, anxiety, insomnia and back aches that hinder their ability to function effectively.

Dr Al-Kholaidi has suffered trauma himself. "I am also suffering from vicarious trauma, as I'm dealing with dozens of patients every day. The stories I hear are so miserable and people’s situations are becoming more difficult,” he explains.

Fearful for the safety of his family, Dr Al-Kholaidi is about to leave the country he loves and the career he has taken years to build. Even if he cannot help those in Yemen, he can do so elsewhere. If given the opportunity to work as a doctor, he would support migrants and refugees who reintegrate into a new country.

WHO support for mental health and other conditions

Mental health and psychosocial support for patients as well as health workers is an essential component of WHO’s work in Yemen. Currently, the country has only 40 psychiatric specialists, the majority of whom are based in Sana’a, the capital.

To help, WHO is training health and community workers outside the capital how to manage mental disorders using WHO’s Mental Health Gap Action Programme intervention guide to increase mental health services across the country.

Beyond mental health care, WHO and partners are providing health assistance to more than 12 million people, including:

  • providing medical supplies and equipment, including for treating critical cases of noncommunicable diseases like heart disease and diabetes;
  • vaccinating against diseases, including measles, rubella and polio;
  • preventing vector-borne diseases, such as malaria;
  • delivering integrated primary health care, including mental health services;
  • supporting treatment of conflict-related injuries (e.g. through the deployment of surgical teams and supplies);
  • supporting mobile clinics and outreach services for reproductive, maternal and newborn child health;
  • strengthening disease surveillance and outbreak response.