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The Largest Humanitarian Catastrophe of Yemen

Currently, 125 million people around the world are affected by humanitarian emergencies stemming from national conflicts, outbreaks of disease and natural disasters. Centuries-old diseases like cholera continue to affect people due to lack of access to clean water for sanitation and hygiene. Medical supply shortages and damaged health care facilities put millions at risk of illness and death from preventable conditions. Given our responsibility to aid humankind, health professionals should be at the forefront of confronting these humanitarian crises. After all, the Hippocratic Oath is the testament of a physician’s duty to care for humanity. As medical students in training, we have made that oath, and by doing so, hold ourselves accountable for the advocacy of the vulnerable.

I am calling for international solidarity and aid for Yemenis who are currently living in the worst conditions imaginable without clean water, food or shelter. Today in Yemen, there is war, an economic crisischolera outbreaks, the Chikungunya virus and COVID-19, all in the same country. Even if Yemenis are able to flee from such conditions, European countries are unwilling to accommodate the influx of migrants. As such, international support and collaboration are critical from a human rights perspective, where human beings must be respected before anything else and entitled to their own inherent rights as designated by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). Without due intervention from developed countries, the Yemeni refugees are disadvantageously situated with their very futures threatened.

Among the migrants, there are children who, given the precarity and scarcity of resources, will face an inescapable reality of famine and plague. Thus, within the COVID-19 pandemic, there is a crisis of children’s rights in many disease-stricken lands. Vast numbers are unable to access proper nutrition and are left forgotten. Children under the age of five aren’t able to receive vaccinations in a timely fashion, and this may unfortunately result in a vaccination pandemic. Besides this, the conflict in Yemen has affected education for the past five years, leaving almost 2 million children out of school. The uncertainty, chaos and conflict in war-torn Yemen have robbed children of their futures by depriving them of education, and with the COVID-19 pandemic, chances of them going back to school or accessing resources to learn are slim.

Since the conflict began in Yemen, the country is also experiencing the largest food insecurity emergency in the world. Although the World Food Bank has sent barrels of donated food, Al-Jazeera and BBC report that these containers have been unable to reach civilians who are in great need. This is due to the lack of available fuel coupled with damaged roads hindering the distribution of supplies. Pregnant and breastfeeding women are hit the hardest by food insecurity, as they require the greatest dietary diversity of iron and folic acid. The effects of malnutrition leave them with weak immune systems, and as such, they are deficient in the proper physiologic coping mechanisms needed to fight infections and colds. Furthermore, they have had to rely on untreated water supplies and unprotected wells for sustenance, placing themselves at risk of life-threatening illnesses. Failing to assist these people is a veracious shame for the international community.

The human rights violations mentioned above raise ethical concerns regarding the suffering and dignity of individuals dying in settings like Yemen. While medical professionals strive to save lives, the practice of creating space for individuals to die in dignity is a fairly recent phenomenon and urges for a more humane approach to suffering. In a crisis as large as Yemen, physicians will face patients pleading with them to be cured as well as to have an end to their suffering. Medical training and literature unfortunately lack guidance for patients and for health professionals to be compassionate caregivers in theaters of humanitarian healthcare. As a result of this, physicians are ill-equipped to care for patients in low and middle-income countries requesting a less painful death.

Despite insufficient training to be in these war zones, physicians may alleviate the suffering of Yemenis by simply providing water, putting up blinds to protect patients from the scorching sun or even acting as a friend to someone who is grievously injured. These small meaningful acts of compassion provide patients with respect and dignity, strengthen the physician-patient interaction and allow for human connection to blossom — just as they do in the United States. Oftentimes, such measures are the difference between life and death. As medical students in training who are navigating our own trajectories to becoming a physician, such a crisis in Yemen teaches us to unequivocally uphold dignity, nurture compassion and, above all, to be human. If we fail to be compassionate or refuse to engage in simple acts of kindness, then by nature of being physicians we fail to live up to humanitarian values. Only when medical care is embedded with compassionate care will physicians fully grasp the concept of viewing patients as human beings and not as transmitters of disease in arenas of war and conflict.

There is a humanitarian emergency, the largest one the world has seen, in Yemen that stands at risk of exterminating people due to its crisis intensity. As citizens of the world, educating ourselves about these issues in war-torn countries is important. Our voices are the most powerful instruments for change and courageously demanding organizations to deliver services to Yemenis is now, more than ever, vital. The children of Yemen deserve to grow up in peace, not conflict. We have to strive to achieve a better future for them, and therefore international cooperation is necessary to prevent the loss of another 100,000 innocent lives. Ignorance and choosing to look the other way is simply not an option. Some of the humanitarian agencies striving to improve the situation in Yemen include non-governmental organizations such as Yemen Care, Save the Children, and Saba Relief. Everyone everywhere, regardless of their background or race, has the right to health, safety and education. As people, as professionals and as human beings, it is time to do better for humanity.

Image credit: Yemen (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) by carl’s eye

Leah Sarah Peer (1 Posts)

Contributing Writer

Saint James School of Medicine

Leah Sarah Peer is a second-year medical student at Saint James School of Medicine. In 2018, she graduated from Concordia University in Montreal, Quebec with a Bachelor of Science in biology and a minor in human rights. She is passionate about the intersection of health and human rights, and as an advocate for social justice and global health, she actively participates in community initiatives in her free time. After graduating medical school, Leah Sarah would like to pursue a career in emergency or humanitarian medicine.