Health workers in Houthi-controlled areas in Yemen have recently reported that they face significant barriers to obtaining vaccines, and existing vaccines may expire before they are used. By failing to take all available measures to address the Covid-19 pandemic, Houthi authorities are subjecting the country’s medical workers to unnecessary risk, which could further devastate the country’s healthcare system.
Human Rights Watch and others have previously criticized Houthi authorities’ disinformation about the pandemic and their undermining international efforts to distribute vaccines. On June 1 the World Health Organization (WHO) announced that a vaccination campaign would finally begin in Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen, starting with 10,000 doses for healthcare workers. This was a welcome step for desperate health workers battling the deadly coronavirus with little to no assistance from the authorities. But in the past month, even this small distribution has proved elusive.
Most of the barriers to vaccination are directly tied to the Houthi authorities’ apparent unwillingness to take the pandemic seriously. They have not advertised vaccination center locations or encouraged health workers to take the vaccines. They have also prevented any information about the campaign to appear on the Houthi health ministry’s website, and mandated that health workers give blood before they can receive a vaccine.
At least 150 doctors in Yemen have died from Covid-19, according to the Yemeni Doctors Living Abroad Association. Last year, most of the 97 health workers who died from Covid-19 were in Yemen’s Houthi-controlled capital, Sanaa. The death of health workers has serious consequences in a country with a healthcare system decimated by years of war, a shortage of medical professionals, and what the United Nations has called the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. It is estimated that only half of Yemen’s healthcare system is functioning and is heavily reliant on support from international donors, whose aid has decreased in recent years.
In May, UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Mark Lowcock indicated that Covid-19 was pushing Yemen’s healthcare system to collapse. Given the urgent medical needs of the Yemeni people, Houthi authorities should immediately lift all barriers to vaccination and allow health workers to safely perform their vital role.