The founder of the Red Crescent humanitarian organisation in war-torn Yemen has died after being denied access to life-saving treatment, his family said, making him the latest victim of the collapse of the nation’s healthcare system.
Abdullah Alkhamesi, 76, a leading doctor, established the organisation in the early 1970s, and it has since saved countless lives.
On Thursday, however, the ailing Yemeni became a victim of conditions on the ground which, according to the UN, have left less than half of the country’s health facilities able to operate, and even then with limited functionality.
Alkhamesi, who worked with international aid agencies in Yemen for decades, was a former head of the Yemeni doctors’ union.
His son, Zubair, told the Guardian the family were initially unable to find stents – expandable tubes used in narrowed arteries – needed for his father’s heart surgery. He could not be transferred abroad for treatment because of restrictions on movement imposed by Saudi Arabia. He died in a hospital in Sana’a, and was buried on Friday.
The conflict in Yemen is between Houthi rebels controlling the capital Sana’a who are allied with former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, and forces loyal to another president, the ousted Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi. Since 2015, Saudi Arabia has led a military intervention to counter the advance of the Iran-backed Houthis, with the ultimate aim of reinstating Hadi. The UK has been criticised for selling arms to Saudi Arabia despite the high casualty rate of its US-backed airstrikes in Yemen.
“First, [the hospital] couldn’t find the stents. [Then] they found one and they found another one, and they bought some from an Indian nurse. Stents cost them $1000, it’s just crazy. It’s massive money in Yemen,” Zubair Alkhamesi said. “They collected all of them, they made the operations and then the doctor said he needed more, but they didn’t have any more.
“He got the stents but he didn’t get better, since then he deteriorated and there was no way to get him out to Cairo, or Amman, the queue was very long, there’s a queue for names for patients, the Saudis have stopped the planes.”
The Saudi-led coalition has imposed restrictions on Yemeni airspace, leading to the closure of Sana’a airport in August 2016. Less than a dozen humanitarian flights are allowed into Yemen each week, landing in Sana’a and Aden. There are no commercial flights.
The UN has estimated that the airport’s closure means 20,000 patients have been denied potentially life-saving healthcare abroad. Few flights, if any, are scheduled each month to transfer patients who need to be treated overseas.
Zubair, said his father was taken to hospital two weeks ago and he spent most of that time in intensive care.
“Of course, he died because of lack of access to life-saving medicine,” he said. “It’s very hard to get anything in Yemen now, you can’t get the medicine, you can’t get the stents. You have to go and bribe the people and find everything through the back door, everything is very, very expensive, doctors would say buy this now and go sometime and it would take you a week to find this medicine.”
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