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Statement on the situation in Yemen

WHO statement by WHO Director-General, Dr Margaret Chan
27 May 2015

The conflict in Yemen is entering its 10th week and the numbers of dead and injured continue to grow. As always in conflict, it is innocent civilians that pay the highest price. Almost 2000 people have been killed and 8000 injured so far, including hundreds of women and children.

The shelters housing internally displaced persons are full of stories of loss and survival. For example, 6-year-old Malak lost her mother and saw others around her die as her family fled the fighting and 65-year-old Fathiya lost 13 members of her family and is now the sole guardian of 3 grandchildren who survived.

Almost 8.6 million people are in urgent need of medical help. WHO was able to dispatch almost 48 tonnes of medicine into the country during the 5-day ceasefire earlier this month, serving some 400 000 people. This is vastly insufficient - and people continue to suffer not only from war-related injuries, but from inability to get basic treatment for the most common health conditions, or get obstetric care during childbirth.

As the conflict continues, more lives are lost every day, not just due to the violence, but as a health system that has been seriously damaged barely copes with the extraordinary needs posed by the unrelenting violent conflict and can no longer provide them with the health services they need to stay alive. The health and lives of millions of people are at risk.

Hospitals around the country are closing down their emergency operations rooms and intensive care units due to shortages in staff and fuel for generators. Medicines for diabetes, hypertension and cancer are no longer available. The National Tuberculosis Programme has shut down in some areas, and infectious diseases such as malaria and dengue fever are spreading. Outbreaks of polio and measles are also serious risks.

Throughout the conflict, there have been widespread violations of international humanitarian law and Geneva conventions for the protection of health facilities, staff and patients. Health infrastructure continues to be hit, with attacks reported on hospitals and ambulances, a medical warehouse, an oxygen factory, and a blood transfusion centre. Some health care workers were killed trying to save lives and more injured.

This unnecessary loss of innocent lives cannot go on. The health system must be allowed to function unimpeded by the insecurity. All parties must respect their obligations under international humanitarian law to protect civilians, health facilities and health staff during conflict and to permit the supply of vital humanitarian aid, such as medicines, vaccines and medical equipment to areas where it is needed most, and ensure the right to urgently-needed lifesaving health care.