Feb 18, 2017 Volume 389 Number 10070 p671-762
Yemen’s silent killers
Published: 18 February 2017
Nearly 2 years of war have devastated Yemen. 14·8 million people currently lack access to basic health care, 7 million people are facing food insecurity, and 2·1 million children are acutely malnourished. On Feb 8, WHO and its health partners released their emergency response plan for Yemen’s health sector in 2017, including its funding requirement: US$321·6 million.
Around 75 people are either killed or injured in the conflict every day. But beyond these casualties, Rick Brennan, Director of WHO’s Emergency Operations, notes that “many Yemeni people die in silence” from diseases that are preventable and treatable, but that go unnoticed in reporting of the crisis. The main causes of avoidable deaths are communicable diseases and maternal, perinatal, and nutritional conditions (together responsible for 50% of deaths), and non-communicable diseases (39% of deaths). Lives are being lost because Yemen’s health system is under severe strain; chronic shortages of drugs and other medical supplies exist and less than 45% of health facilities are functioning.
In their response plan for 2017, WHO and its health partners are targeting 10.4 million people, mostly women and children, and others in acute need. Their key strategic objectives include providing integrated primary, secondary, and referral health services, surveillance and response, and medical supplies in priority districts; strengthening reproductive, maternal, newborn, child, and adolescent health interventions; and improving health sector coordination and health information systems.
Amid the dire health and humanitarian data for Yemen, it might be easy for some donors to dismiss the crisis as too difficult and large. But they should not. Last year, WHO and its health partners received financial support that, among its achievements, sustained the functionality of 414 health facilities in 145 districts, delivered 541 child health and nutrition interventions in 323 districts, and provided essential medicine and medical supplies to assist an estimated 3 million people. The 2017 emergency response plan is realistic and targeted, focusing on priority accessible districts and interventions for delivery. It deserves to be fully supported.