After working with Doctors without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in Liberia at the tail end of the Ebola epidemic, Australian Emma Parker spent almost six months as Head Nurse at Al-Salam Hospital in Khamir, Yemen. Emma talks about her time amid the ‘forgotten war’.
“There are no commercial flights in or out of Yemen’s capital city, Sana’a, anymore; just humanitarian ones. You look around at the airport and everything has been bombed…the planes, the buildings.
Many people don’t know it but the humanitarian crisis in Yemen is the worst in the region. It is now estimated that 80 per cent of the population, around 22 million people, require some form of assistance. Coming from Australia, with our population of 24 million, the scale of the emergency is almost impossible to comprehend.
At Al-Salam Hospital, MSF is involved in the emergency, surgery, maternity, paediatric, inpatient and intensive care departments, and collaborates closely with the Ministry of Health to improve medical services. We also support the blood bank and laboratory.
During my time there as Head Nurse, we treated many children for malnutrition and severe diarrhoea, as well as respiratory infections and malaria. For women, we managed a lot of very complicated obstetric cases. For men, it was trauma, mostly gunshot wounds and road traffic accidents. Injuries from airstrikes didn’t discriminate by age or gender.
The war is intensifying in Yemen and restricts access to medical facilities (or has destroyed them completely). We were seeing more and more people who’d travelled from far away; I heard of people walking seven hours to come to the hospital. By the time they reached us, they were often in bad condition.
Yemenis are known to be incredibly resilient. But as the war drags on, you can see the effects. Very few people are working and there are chronic shortages of food, water, energy. People are struggling.
Our national staff are among the “lucky ones” in Khamir; MSF employs more than 200 at the hospital (as well as ten international staff). Some of the staff were from a nearby internally displaced persons (IDP) camp. That was positive because if someone is employed, it doesn’t just help their family, but others too.
In the town, unless you work for MSF, in a shop or selling street wares…there’s not really much else. Even the Ministry of Health can’t really afford to pay salaries. The Yemeni bank doesn’t have the money to pay. The country has almost ceased to function. One of my Yemeni colleagues said, “No one governs this place”.
Despite all this, the minute you leave the country you really want to go back. It’s hard to describe, there’s something special about it. All the other field workers I have spoken to have said the same thing.”