When we retreat, who will move forward?
21-year-old Ansaf is from Sana’a and is in her second year of medical school. She is a nurse assistant working at the MSF-supported Sheikh Zayed COVID-19 center in Sana’a.
“I contracted COVID-19 while at work, protecting people and performing my duty. I lost my appetite - for three days I had no desire to eat - and also my sense of smell. Then it escalated and I got a sore throat and severe shortness of breath. A medical colleague advised me to have a swab test and it confirmed that I had COVID-19. Immediately I started to self-isolate and receive treatment for three weeks.
For the sake of myself and people around me, I did not allow anyone to come close - my family, friends and colleagues. And I started taking the medication prescribed by the doctor. Thanks to God, I got through this difficult time and no one got infected. I went back to work and my duties, hoping that people do not need to go through the same pain I experienced. I want to make them understand that I was in their shoes and have overcome it, and they too would overcome it.
My advice to my colleagues - the doctors, nurses and their assistants, and to all medical staff and humanitarian workers - is that this is an important, humanitarian phase. We hear and see that some doctors and nurses are not coming to work for fear of the disease. This hospital relies on the doctors and nurses who work in it. When we retreat, who will move forward? If everyone takes a step backwards, who will be in charge? We are all responsible at this time. This is the time when we will prove ourselves by helping these patients.
This disease isn’t that terrible. It’s the same as any other disease. It just requires co-operation to overcome this disease. Our presence is important and necessary to the patients. They are our responsibility, as doctors, nurses and assistants. We need to be here to save the lives of people who have been entrusted to us to keep safe.”
Peace and stability are all we need
Zainab is a health educator working for MSF in Taiz.
“My role as a health educator is about raising awareness among pregnant women and new mothers about hygiene and health issues, about diseases and how to prevent them, and also about MSF’s work.
I have been living here ever since they closed the roads. For two years I couldn’t reach the city to see my family and even send money to support them. My sister was still in university and my other sister would soon follow her, while my younger siblings required care and attention. My father was killed in a road accident involving a security patrol vehicle two years ago. I couldn’t believe it - my father was strong and the thought of him gone was unbearable. It’s the conflict’s fault, I thought.
When I finally managed to visit my home, the situation was desperate. So I gathered my siblings, grabbed some of our belongings and brought my family here to live with me. What gives me consolation is that my family is now safe, and I have employment with MSF which allows me to support my family. This hospital has saved many lives, my family’s and mine included.
I was tense and anxious most of the time. Whenever I heard shelling or gun fire in our area, I called my family immediately. If I couldn’t get through, I was taken over by dark thoughts. I often had nightmares - my brother might get taken from the house, my sisters might be kidnapped...and there were words from relatives and acquaintances, saying that I am a woman and I should stay at home. I was able to prove to them, and to everyone else, that I could handle this responsibility.
I hope to continue working with MSF for years to come. There are so many vulnerable people dependent on the healthcare provided here and so many staff who depend on the hospital for their livelihoods. Peace and stability are all we need.
Living in fear
Balqees is a woman living in Taiz.
“This is my third child Taha. He’s 48 days old. I gave birth to him in a health centre in the village. They told me that my son needed medical attention. In our area there are no hospitals, only clinics, so we drove for around two hours to get to this MSF hospital.
When we first arrived, Taha was taken for phototherapy because he had jaundice. We stayed a week in the hospital and then returned to the village. When his health deteriorated, I had to come back to the hospital. I have been here for four days now. Even a simple walk tires me. I am still recovering from the trip - it was exhausting, especially after being pregnant and with those difficult road conditions.
We suffer from a poor financial situation - that’s why we chose to come here. I knew this hospital provided free-of-charge services. I told my husband we would bring our children here if they ever feel ill. Taha is improving day by day. He has gained an entire kilo in a week. Still, they won’t discharge him until he’s completely healthy.
Things were better before this war started. There was security, safety and stability. Nowadays everyone lives in fear. In the past if you wanted to visit your parents or family, it might take an hour; nowadays you leave your house in the morning and arrive at your destination at dusk. When I fall ill, I avoid going to a health facility because the distance is far. I would see the doctor in our village or visit a pharmacy to get my medication, but it all costs money. Medication is expensive, healthcare is expensive.
My only wish is for happiness for us from now onwards. I hope for a good future. I long for the day when there is no war, when we rediscover what stability tastes like, what security means.”
Baby smashed by a bullet
Faydeh is a one-year-old baby. Her father Omar is around 60. He is from al-Hodeidah, a port city on Yemen’s west coast.
In August 2020, his wife was feeding Faydeh in their house when a bullet came down through the roof and smashed into the baby. “We had to leave to find medical help,” he says. “I was crying, my wife was crying, I was so worried Faydeh would die. We had to walk from dawn to dusk through the dust, there was shooting and mines all around us. I was telling the children to follow exactly in my footsteps.” Finally, as the sun set they managed to reach a house where they were able to get some food and a car to take them to a hospital.
Unable to deal with the severity of Faydeh’s wounds, after two days the hospital told Omar that there was no choice but to travel to Aden, at least six hours drive away. “We had to spend 20,000 Riyals ($33) to reach Aden, taking one car after another. The wound was beginning to smell and pus was coming out of it.”
After being rejected by a couple of private hospitals a government hospital took the family in but was not able to treat the wound, which had become infected with antibiotic-resistant bacteria. She is better now, after a months-long stay in the MSF hospital. “I was a baker in Hodeidah,” Omar says, “but here there’s no work. Despite that, I don’t want to return to home, there’s nothing there but mines, shooting and hunger.”
Another NGO has found the family a place to live in Aden. So the family will begin a new life in a city whose inhabitants do not know for sure what will happen and yet are convinced that they have not seen the last of fighting, and are now increasingly worried about what the coronavirus will do to their city and to their country. Omar says he would like Faydeh to go to school. What Aden will be like by the time she is old enough to start studying is anyone’s guess.