A volunteer doctor in Yemen
9 months of near continuous war
A doctor and father|Dedicated to saving lives|Emergency first aid
Editor’s note: Since the outbreak of the war in Yemen in March 2015, the humanitarian catastrophe shows no sign of relenting.
The registered death toll has reached 5,600 in the past eight months and 80% of Yemen’s 25 million people are now in need of humanitarian assistance. In the capital, Sana’a, there are worries a major battle for control of the city may be imminent. Thirty-one-year-old Mohammed Radman is International Medical Corps’ Nutrition Officer in Sana'a. Pockets of fighting in many areas of the city have already forced Mohammed, his wife and their two-year-old son to move four times to remain safe.
Like many Yemenis,Mohammed and his family are now internally displaced persons (IDPs). What follows is Mohammed’s diary which he has shared with us:
December 4, 2015
The relative calm that had prevailed here in Sana’a for a while did not last long enough. Monday at 4am, we woke up to the sounds of shelling. My wife, son and myself tried to take cover but because it all sounded a good distance away, we didn’t take refuge downstairs as we used to do. Today (Wednesday), there was bombing very close to our office. Now we are bracing for another round of armed clashes. I have prepared suitcases and put them in the family car in case the situation deteriorates further and we need to move to another place in a hurry. What’s most important to me? My wife, my son and our government-issued documents. At home, we’ve stocked up on food for a whole month in case the shelling gets too bad and we find ourselves unable to move outdoors.
Still, life goes on and during the last ten days, we have managed to complete many activities at International Medical Corps. Together with two Ministry of Health staff members I helped conduct a training exercise for 53 local health workers on the community management of acute malnutrition.
On another note, the government has launched a national campaign requiring all governorates to focus on reaching out to serve remote areas. In Sana’a Governorate alone, we spent four days in villages and districts outside the capital, using mobile clinics to offer health care and important nutritional assistance. International Medical Corps has set up mobile clinics to serve these outlying areas for the coming year as part of a government-led campaign. We are participating as a key organisation in the health sector. As part of all this I managed to complete a training programme for nine of our staff members on the management of mobile clinics and yesterday was their first day “on the job”, offering vital health care to vulnerable communities in Sana’a Governorate. It was a good feeling of accomplishment.
November 19, 2015
The situation has been calm for a while now. The US dollar is still high and so are the prices for all basic products. As food prices have sky-rocketed, people are limiting their shopping. Rising food prices have also led to a growing number of hungry people here. At International Medical Corps, we are increasing our efforts to get emergency aid to those who need it most. Last week we distributed vitamins and micro nutrients throughout Sana’a.
We also recently ended a very successful training programme in first aid, with 50 first aid workers from 24 medical centres attending. Two of the participants told me, “We wish we had had this training before the war”. Many told me after the training that they now feel better equipped to save lives. The aim of the training is to strengthen the capacity of aid workers so that they are better equipped with emergency preparedness skills if and when crisis comes. The training was not only theoretical, but also practical, using role playing to make it a realistic and tangible exercise. We also used a participatory approach where trainees had the opportunity to discuss what they had experienced during the war.
International Medical Corps financially supported the sessions and also selected six trainers from the Yemeni Red Crescent, who we schooled before they provided the training to 50 of their colleagues. The participants were professional first aid workers accustomed to being on the frontlines. At the end of the training, each participant received a first aid bag that they can carry with them wherever they go.
We are partnering with the Ministry of Public Health and Population using a similar approach to strengthen the skills of midwives—selecting four experienced midwives to train 17 newly recruited midwives in public hospitals on general health, breastfeeding, infant nutrition and other topics. It’s important to build the capacity of midwives whose roles are crucial especially in the current environment.
We have another important project set to begin next month: opening stabilisation centres for children up to 5 years old. The aim is to provide lifesaving medical treatment and nutrition services to children affected with acute malnutrition.
October 16, 2015 - Daily struggles
Calm has prevailed in Sana’a for seven days now. Inside the city, food is available, but in neighbouring villages both food and money are in short supply. In many cases, people haven’t been paid for months now. Those working in the private sector used to have higher salaries than those in the public sector. But that was before the war. Now, the private sector has either fired all or most of its employees. My older brother, for example, is the Financial Director of the Union of the Football Association. He hasn’t received his salary for six months now. My younger brother is a salesman for a mobile telephone company. As soon as the war began (in March, 2015), his salary was suddenly cut to 25% of what he had been earning previously. The economic crisis is serious because it is affecting many thousands of families. The number of people who used to work in the private sector (about two million) is twice the number of those in the public sector (one million).
One of our daily struggles is finding or buying enough clean water to drink and for general personal use. It seems like Yemen’s entire water system is at a standstill. We no longer receive water from the municipal supply. Even before the war, we had this problem because the pipe network is old and most of the water was lost through leaks. Now we have to buy water from trucks, which is expensive. Before the war, it would cost us £8 to buy 120 gallons. Today, the same 120 gallons cost £45.
The water situation is worse in Taiz because even if you have money and can afford to buy water, it’s not available because all the roads in and out of the city are closed. Taiz is now beginning its third week of being sealed off from the rest of the country. Just a few days ago, there was a sort of divine intervention: Taiz got heavy rain, which is unusual for this time of the year. People are collecting the water and putting it in barrels and tanks. We hope this will save the situation somehow.
As for my work during the last week, we have distributed more medicines and medical equipment to hospitals in Sana’a. We are also conducting first aid training in coordination with the Yemeni Red Crescent. The training targets 24 medical centres. So far, I have trained 48 health workers and after each session, we distribute paramedic bags to each participant. We decided to do this training as part of an effort to prepare for the worst. I mentioned last week that we were expecting a major ground battle for control of Sana’a. With this in mind, we decided to prepare medics with life-saving procedures in case of large scale injuries.
October 6, 2015 - A calm few days
It’s been relatively calm in recent days. During the Eid holiday my family and I went to Taiz because we feared bombing in Sana’a and there is more food there and also more goods available in the markets.
There is no cooking gas at all now in Yemen. It is just one more nerve-wracking burden to bear in daily life these days—together with the constant fear of the next bombing. We cook with firewood. The gas crisis started with the war. Before the war, we used to buy five gallons for £7, then prices rose to £60. Now there is no gas at all. Also, because there’s no gas, I now walk to the office. I am lucky because it is only 15 minutes away on foot.
Just before Eid, a factory was bombed close to a local hospital we serve here in Sana’a. The entire medical staff fled the hospital and an International Medical Corps’ team is now working hard to fix the doors and the roads that provide access to the facility. All 31 patients fled the hospital as well. Heavy bombing prevented us from transferring them to another hospital. Now I am trying to find and then check the condition of each of the patients. It’s very difficult, but it must be done. Security conditions have so far made it impossible to reopen the hospital. All phone landlines in the city are down. In the Hayel residential area, shops finally reopened after last week’s bombing. Because the market had closed for a week, there were large crowds and several shoppers were trampled in the crush. Children and elderly people were among those who died. It’s a struggle to provide food for our family. There is food available but it is very expensive.
Despite the difficult conditions, our lifesaving work has not been interrupted. True, there is no electricity at home so when we work from home, there is no internet. But we try to make up for it when we are in the office.
One of our pressing priorities now is to get solar energy so that our staff members can all work from home if the security situation deteriorates further. We are also moving our warehouses to other places so that our medicines remain safe.
It’s difficult to describe the atmosphere and the mood in the city, but there is definitely a general fear that a battle for the city is coming. We often hear reports about it in the news.
September 29, 2015 - Refuge from the bombs
The situation in Sanaa now is very worrying. The city has now endured six months of near-continuous war. But recent weeks have been the worst period so far. We have had to move to four different apartments to protect my family from the fighting. Our original home is located in Jabal Saber, but in August, hundreds of civilians were killed in that neighborhood so we had to move. Each time we settle in a new apartment we are forced to move again. We now live in Hael Street, a relatively safe area of the capital—at least for now. Since early summer, we’ve been unable to reach the original International Medical Corps office because there is continuing shelling there. We switched to a temporary office in a safer area, but I have been working from home for two weeks because our security personnel say it’s too dangerous to try going to the office.
The security situation changes by the minute. Sometimes it is quiet and we seize the opportunity to go shopping, but then we suddenly hear exchanges of fire. If we are at home, we all go down to take shelter in the underground parking garage of our six-floor building. It’s hard there because you’re stuck - sometimes for hours, in the dark with dozens of other families, including children and grandparents. Since the war began, we’ve had to seek refuge in the parking garage six times. Each time my son, Omar, is terrified and constantly wants me or my wife to hug him.
Emergency first aid
I am a doctor—a general practitioner—so I volunteer to help at local hospitals when I hear bombings. Last July, for example, I ran to Al Jomhouri Hospital after I heard a big explosion and once inside, I saw hundreds of injured people. The injuries were horrific. It was a nightmare. I am not a surgeon, so I could only help provide first aid to some of the injured. I also made sure that we, as International Medical Corps, provide essential medicines and much-needed medical equipment to the hospital.
The two things preventing hospitals in Yemen from total collapse are the dedication of first responders like International Medical Corps and our support in terms of medical provision. This is very important.
Electricity lines are often cut, running water is a rarity and stores and markets only stay open if conditions are calm. I am sad and worry about the future. It’s tragic to see my city—once crowded with markets and shoppers—all but empty. Now it is the underground parking garages that are crowded with people –people whose only hope is to survive the fighting. I hope things will soon return to normal.