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Yemen: “Word had spread that I was a doctor, and people came to me for help all the time”

31 Jan 2017

When war escalated in Yemen, Sana was abroad, having just qualified as a doctor. Hearing the news, she felt compelled to return to Taiz, scene of some of the conflict’s fiercest fighting. Now she works in the malnutrition ward of Médecins Sans Frontières’ Mother and Child hospital in the divided city

“I had just finished studying medicine in Cairo when the war at home in Yemen escalated. My family said that I should stay in Egypt, to be safe, but I wanted to go home. I arrived back on 25 May 2015. By July my parent’s street was full of soldiers and there was heavy fighting in the neighbourhood. There were tanks in the streets and the noise of heavy artillery and machine guns. We were facing death. We had to moved further and further out of the city. It was an incredibly frustrating time. Word had spread that I was a doctor, and people came to me for help all the time. But there was very little I could do for them. I was able to buy some antibiotics, but I couldn’t get hold of things like insulin or asthma medications. 

"There were tanks in the streets and the noise of heavy artillery and machine guns. We were facing death."

I saw many people with skin diseases and rashes because they had fled their homes and were living in very poor conditions in old, run-down buildings. They couldn’t afford to buy medicines for themselves. Sometimes my family paid for their transport to hospital in Sana’a, six or seven hours’ drive away. It was safer to stay in the countryside, but it was very frustrating. There was so little I could do from home. Last summer, I saw a job advertisement for a position in Médecins Sans Frontières’ hospital in Taiz and started working in July. I thought, 'That’s what I’ve got to do!' To get to the job interview, I had to take a detour over the mountains because the main road was blocked. The trip took four hours instead of the normal one or two.

I really like working here in the malnutrition intensive care ward. Most of our patients are young children, as they’re most at risk of becoming severely malnourished. We had a pair of twins – a boy and a girl – whose family said they had nothing to eat at home. We admitted both twins to hospital, and at first they did quite well. Soon they were able to receive outpatient treatment, coming to the hospital once a week for a check-up and to collect a supply of therapeutic food. But soon, the girl became worse. One day she arrived in such a weak state that she couldn’t be saved. The boy is still alive, fortunately, though he is still on treatment. In the future, I’d like to become a paediatrician. I want to help people at the start of their lives. I had all the paperwork ready to return to Cairo to specialise, but that didn’t go as planned, and now the Ministry of Health has no money. I hope I’ll be able to get a state scholarship and become a paediatrician later – if there’s still such thing as a state.”