Treating COVID-19 in Yemen amongst fear, stigma and misinformation

17 Aug 2021
Press release
Related Countries

One year into the COVID-19 pandemic in Yemen; stigma, disinformation, fear of detention and lack of knowledge on presence of isolation centres continues to deter people from seeking timely treatment for the disease.

“Some patients stay at home for a while after they get symptoms and may arrive in the late stages of the disease,” says Saddam, intensive care unit supervisor at the Al Jumhouri isolation centre in Sanaa. “Many are transferred here without oxygen, especially those coming from far places.

“We therefore advise all patients to go to the nearest health centre once they develop symptoms such as fever, cough or difficulty in breathing,” says Saddam. “From there, patients can be transferred to the nearest COVID-19 treatment centre if they need further care.”

Misinformation, fear and stigma

Another concern is the spread of misinformation about isolation centres, as well as fear of stigma. People fear that they will receive lethal injections, or even be detained against their will if they visit a COVID-19 centre. Many patients and caretakers insist on leaving the hospital early, against medical advice, because they worry the longer they stay, the higher the chances that they may be stigmatised by relatives and friends.

In Yemen there are very few fully functional COVID-19 treatment centres. In other treatment centres, the health personnel often don’t feel comfortable working without the required protective equipment, while fear of stigmatisation hinders the access to the few functional centres.

Muhammad, a patient in Al Jumhouri COVID-19 treatment centre, says that he was not aware about any health facilities in Dhamar governorate, where he lives, that can provide care for COVID-19 patients. He therefore had to travel three hours to Sanaa. After his recovery, he jokingly tells us while he stands next to his son at the exit gate of Al Jumhouri COVID-19 centre, that the team provided him with a quality of care even his sons could not give him.

For many patients reaching the MSF-supported COVID-19 treatment centre in Al Jumhouri hospital in Sanaa, the journey is a long and difficult one.

Spreading awareness

The compliance with COVID-19 preventive measures in Yemen is rather low. This could be linked to limited awareness-raising activities for people, as it is done for other diseases such as cholera. Another challenge for the community is to identify the severity of the COVID-19 symptoms to seek early care.

We are addressing these challenges through health promoters working in the COVID-19 department, but unfortunately the team is limited to communication within the treatment facility and therefore can’t reach those fearing to come to the health centre in the first place.

Our health promoters are vital in communicating key messages on COVID-19 to the public and addressing misconceptions and rumours related to the disease, which have impacted health systems globally.

“Despite the difficulties regarding health education related to COVID-19 in Yemen, we are doing our best here in the centre to correct misconceptions about the disease and disseminate information to patients and their companions on how to protect themselves, and when and where to receive treatment,” says Ebtisam, who has been working as a health promoter in the isolation centre since its opening in April 2021.

Gilles Grandclement, project coordinator for the MSF COVID-19 response in Al Jumhouri Hospital reminds and encourages all of us that we are all in this together. “COVID-19 is affecting all of us, it is everyone’s responsibility to contribute to the control of this spreading disease and protect each other from getting it,” he says.

“It’s very important that we apply those very simple hygiene rules, like wearing masks in crowded areas, keeping distance and washing hands. These measures will prevent more infection transmission,” says Grandclement.

Please always remember to seek care if you develop a cough, fever or difficulty in breathing. COVID-19 treatment centres are specifically developed to provide optimal lifesaving care for COVID-19 patients.