Houthis drain health system amid pandemic

By Nabil Abdullah al-Tamimi in Aden

Members of the Iran-backed Houthi militia attacked the Royal Hospital in Sanaa this month. [Haitham Mohammed/Al-Mashareq]

Members of the Iran-backed Houthi militia attacked the Royal Hospital in Sanaa this month. [Haitham Mohammed/Al-Mashareq]

The Iran-backed Houthis (Ansarallah) have been looting the public health sector in areas under their control and depriving it of key resources amidst the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, officials and doctors in Yemen said.

The Houthis "are looting the health sector in areas under their control in the name of war effort", said Yemen's Minister of Information Muammar al-Eryani.

Dozens of complaints have been submitted by private hospital and clinic owners alleging the militia has imposed additional taxes on them, he said in a June 9th statement.

The Houthis have been extorting health workers and imposing restrictions on them, he said, noting that complaints also included an increase in the cost of treatment for patients, who are already facing difficult living circumstances.

The Houthi militia has destroyed the public health sector and rendered it incapable of coping with the outbreak of epidemics, said al-Eryani.

It has plundered medical aid and imposed additional taxes on privately owned hospitals, clinics, drug companies and warehouses under the pretext of war effort, he said.

The militia has established private hospitals for its leadership and elements, "while leaving the rest of Yemenis to face their fate", al-Eryani added.

Abusive practices

"The Houthis have imposed fees for services provided to citizens, deducting a percentage of the proceeds," said Dr. Moataz al-Maqtari, who works in a hospital south of Sanaa.

They also raised taxes as well as other fees, he told Al-Mashareq.

"Those who refuse are subjected to abusive practices that go as far as physical assault on medical personnel and the levy of random charges," he said.

On June 15th, the Supreme Executive Council of the Syndicate of Yemeni Doctors and Pharmacists declared its solidarity with the medical staff at isolation centres of the Science and Technology Hospital and the Royal Hospital in Sanaa, who were assaulted by the Houthis.

Doctors were injured and expensive intensive care equipment was destroyed, it said.

"The medical staff at those isolation centres have stopped working until the necessary protection is provided to enable them to perform their work," the syndicate said in a statement.

"The Houthis are repeatedly assaulting medical personnel and private medical facilities, and in May ordered private hospitals not to admit patients exhibiting symptoms similar to coronavirus symptoms," said syndicate member Dr. Nasr Salem.

They limited hospital operations to childbirth and admission of regular patients, while emergency rooms and surgery wards were closed, he told Al-Mashareq.

At the same time, the militia is imposing taxes and other fees to counter the coronavirus outbreak, he said.

Salem said the Health Office in Sanaa "closed four hospitals for not admitting [regular] patients, while it failed to give them the medical assistance provided by relief organisations to tackle the coronavirus outbreak".

Threatening hospital resources

Field teams affiliated with the Houthis have been monitoring hospitals and clamping down on those that do not comply with Houthi directives, said Dr. Mosleh Ahmad, who works at a hospital in northern Sanaa.

This threatens any scarce resources these hospitals still have, he said, noting that many are operating at minimum levels due to taxes and fees imposed by the Houthis.

Private hospitals face the spectre of shutting down, he said, noting that their limited financial resources do not allow them to open and equip isolation centres for suspected coronavirus cases.

Medical assistance provided by the World Health Organisation (WHO) along with government support have helped hospitals bear these costs in government-held areas, he said.

Meanwhile in Houthi-controlled areas, the militia "has not distributed any of that assistance, particularly personal protective equipment (PPE) for doctors", he said.

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