Yemen's failing health system leaves millions at risk of disease: U.N.

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A lack of funds is putting millions of Yemenis at risk of disease and malnutrition as the country’s collapsing health system faces shortages of medicines, fuel and specialist staff, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Thursday.

Nearly two years of war between a Western-backed Arab coalition led by Saudi Arabia and the Iran-allied Houthi movement has left more than half of Yemen’s 28 million people facing hunger, its economy in ruins and food supplies disrupted.

Earlier this month the U.N. World Food Program (WFP) warned that more than 20 million people may starve in the next six months in four separate famines in Yemen, Nigeria, South Sudan and Somalia.

In Yemen alone, an estimated 7.3 million people are in need of immediate food aid, WFP said.

Worried that polio could reappear in the war-ravaged nation, Yemen on Tuesday launched a major vaccination campaign.

“With more than 14.8 million people lacking access to basic health care, the current lack of funds means the situation will get much worse,” Nevio Zagaria, WHO’s acting representative in Yemen, said in a statement.

Last year, U.N. agencies including WHO, received less than 60 percent of their appeal for $182 million to support Yemen’s health sector.

So far this year’s appeal for $322 million for healthcare has been less than 1 percent funded, according to the U.N. Financial Tracking Service.

WHO said only 45 percent of Yemen’s health facilities were fully functional and accessible.

Highly specialized medical staff, including intensive care doctors, psychiatrists and foreign nurses, have left the country, and the health workers that have remained have not received regular salaries since September, the agency said.

Lack of money has forced Al-Tharwa hospital in the Red Sea port of Hodeidah - the main functioning health facility in the region - to stop providing food to its patients.

“There are acute shortages of certain medicines and we need more fuel to ensure the hospital has electricity,” hospital director, Khaled Suhail, said in a statement, adding that with no funds to cover operational costs, he did not know if the hospital would be open in a month’s time.

WHO said nearly 4.5 million Yemenis, including 2 million children, need assistance in treating or preventing malnutrition - a 150 percent increase since late 2014.

“We urgently need resources to help support the health system as a whole, and are calling on donors to scale-up their support before more innocent lives are lost unnecessarily,” Zagaria said.