Close-up of Mukhtar Ismail, a 20-year-old man in Yemen, lying on blankets on a bed

Mukhtar Ismail © ICRC

Yemen is facing a serious cholera outbreak with 532 recorded deaths and more than 65,300 suspected cases in a matter of weeks. As these stories show, Yemen’s crumbling health care system was struggling to cope even before the recent cholera outbreak. 

“I have nothing,” said Mukhtar Ismail.

“I cannot cover the costs of the medicine. Before being injured, I used to work, walk and do everything. Now I cannot move or even stand up. I cannot breathe.”

Mukhtar is one of thousands of people injured during Yemen’s two-year conflict.

Like many, the 20-year-old needs urgent medical treatment.

But fighting and severe shortages of medical supplies mean that fewer than half of Yemen’s hospitals are fully functioning.

Mukhtar has been mentally, as well as physically, scarred by the crisis.

“There is no security in Yemen now,” he said.

“You can’t move, you can’t even leave your house. If you do leave your house, you might be killed in an air raid, or shelled.

“If you go to the shop to buy something, a bomb might kill you. Your family won’t see you again. Or they will find your dead body, or they will collect your pieces into bags.

“I am praying for God to put an end to the war in Yemen. And for the recovery of all Yemenis, including me.”

Health care in ruins
Twelve-year-old boy Mohammad Qasam sits in a wheelchair in Yemen with his head and wrist in bandages

Mohammad Qasam © ICRC

The UN calls Yemen the world’s single largest humanitarian crisis.

Yet this emergency in which 19 million people – over twice the population of London – need humanitarian aid rarely makes the headlines.

Thousands of people are reaching crisis point because of hunger, disease or war wounds. Among them is 12-year-old Mohammad Qasam.

“While I was playing, our house was hit in an air raid,” he said.

“My brother and I were injured. The house fell on me. They took me to the hospital. I was unconscious. I didn’t know where I was.”

Mohammad is one of thousands of patients being treated in a hospital supported by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

Hospitals and health centres in Yemen have been badly hit by fighting. Too often they have been deliberately targeted – something that is forbidden under international humanitarian law.

More than 160 armed attacks on hospitals, clinics and ambulances have been reported to the ICRC.

The ICRC supports over 80 hospitals and medical centres around the country so they can treat as many patients as possible.

Conflict has not only killed many of Yemen’s health professionals, but many have also fled the violence. Those who remain work under the hardest imaginable conditions.

Patients with critical injuries, including burns and major head injuries are often sent to Al Jamhori hospital.

Nabil Qasim al-Haj, a surgeon in Yemen, wearing his protective clothing for surgery with his mask pulled down to his chin

Nabil Qasim al-Haj, a surgeon © ICRC

Nabil Qasim al-Haj, a surgeon at the hospital, is one of those struggling to cope with an influx of war wounded.

“We are facing huge pressures,” said Nabil.

“In addition to our usual patients, we are receiving very difficult surgical cases, patients with complex conflict related injuries.”

Missing medicines
In Yemen, pharmacist Arwa Ahmed stands in front of shelves of medicine wearing a white coat and a black veil that covers the lower half of her face

Pharmacist Arwa Ahmed © ICRC

Pharmacist Arwa Ahmed explained that shortages of essential drugs affect everyone.

“Because of the war in Yemen, we lack medicines for chronic diseases like high blood pressure, or diabetes, especially here in public hospitals,” she said.

“And we have power cuts, so some medicines that need to be kept cold [refrigerated] go bad and we have to throw them away.”

Sometimes essential drugs are only available privately for a high price.

Farmer Ali Qaid lies on a hospital bed in Yemen

Ali Qaid © ICRC

Farmer Ali Qaid has kidney failure and travelled over 200 km (125 miles) to get the vital treatment he needs.

“I have children,” he said. “But no one supports us. I have been suffering from kidney failure for six years.

“I have not been able to work since then. You cannot work with kidney failure.”

In a Yemen hospital, nurse Ibstisam Ali, who wears a black headscarf and veil over the lower part of her face, stands in front of a male patient getting dialysis

Nurse Ibstisam Ali © ICRC

In addition to the vicious circle of conflict, medical shortages and poverty, some health workers are not even being paid regularly.

Nurse Ibstisam Ali stays at her post anyway to help her patients.

“Another challenge is that we do not receive our salaries,” she said.

“However, we are trying to face and overcome such challenges.

“We do our jobs for the sake of humanitarian work and alleviating the suffering of the patients.”

This piece was updated on 01 June.