Close-up of Ayman, a boy with diabetes in Yemen


What happens when you have diabetes and your country falls apart?

When your home is bombed, over half of hospitals and medical centres close and there is no clean water?

Living like this would be hard for anyone, but if your diabetes means you need insulin every day, it is catastrophic.

This is the situation in Yemen, where estimates say that 900,000 people have diabetes and most depend on insulin.

Yet a conflict that has been raging for more than 18 months has restricted entry of all medicine into Yemen.

People have to fend for themselves

“My family and I spend entire days at a time looking for insulin,” secondary school student Ayman Al-Amari said.

“People with chronic disease are often forgotten during times of conflict,” said Alexandre Faite, head of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Yemen.

Tragically, the shortage of drugs and medical care means people are dying of treatable diseases, including diabetes.

Vital insulin arrives

A Red Cross worker in Yemen stands at the open door of a cargo plane ready to unload medical supplies

Last summer, the ICRC chartered a plane to fly vital medical supplies for thousands of people.

This included 130,000 vials of insulin for people with diabetes.

After that, another 70,000 vials arrived by boat.

“At this time in Yemen, there is a severe shortage of medications for these people,” Alexandre said.

“This insulin cargo will help thousands of people with diabetes whose suffering has been heightened since the conflict started.”

Russia sits on the floor with her legs crossed wearing a bright red dress and headscarf


People like Russia Hassan Ahmed, who says that having diabetes for five years has turned her life “upside down”.

“Doctors are doing their best to avoid me losing my right leg after having already lost a finger due to irregular intake of insulin,” she said.

Health care needs support

“Yemen’s health sector is in a terrible state,” Alexandre said.

“The ongoing conflict has led to reduced production of medications by local pharmaceutical companies.

“Restrictions on the movement of medications into and across the country have compounded the situation.”

The Yemeni Ministry of Public Health used to provide low-cost insulin on a regular basis – much like the NHS does in Britain.

“But insulin is now out of reach for thousands of patients,” Alexandre said.

Yahay, wearing traditional Yemeni clothes, stares to the right


Yahya, who has lost his vision as a result of diabetes, is forced to travel hundreds of kilometres from his home to the capital Sana’a to get insulin.

“As I am suffering from a diabetic foot I come here to get treated,” he said.

“There is a severe shortage of insulin where I live. Last week a patient passed away due to lack of medication.”

While the new insulin deliveries are extremely positive first steps, the needs are still great.

“Less than 30 per cent of the needed medicines and medical supplies entered Yemen in the first half of 2016,” Alexandre reported.

Support extends across the country
Abudllah sits in a wheelchair with his eyes close and his hand at his head


The Red Cross and our partners are among the few organisations able to support essential health care in hard-to-reach areas of Yemen.

For example, the Red Cross and Yemen Red Crescent health clinic in the northern town of Hajja has treated over 1,800 pregnant women and their babies since June.

Remarkably, this is the only health centre in the area providing maternity and other services.

The Red Cross Movement also supplied ten ambulances and helped with running costs for eight hospitals.

But people like Abdullah Qasim Naji still feel the shortages deeply.

“Diabetes has taken my arm and leg. I am often in pain and worry about losing additional limbs if I don’t get regular medication”, he said.

Will you help us to do more? Support the Yemen Crisis Appeal.

This blog was updated on 8 December 2016.