Ahead of a workshop in Liverpool on 4th June, Dr Sharif Ismail from Imperial College London outlines some of the urgent challenges facing Yemen’s health system, and how a coalition of organisations is engaging the UK-based Yemeni diaspora together with the research community, to better understand the situation, the possible ways forward, and to help build a plan for health system reconstruction in Yemen once the conflict subsides.
It is now over a year into a conflict in Yemen for which there is no imminent end in sight. Aid agencies are rightly focusing on immediate relief for the time being, but there is an urgent need to start thinking now about reconstruction once the conflict comes to an end. And nowhere is this need greater than in health.
Even before the upsurge in violence – and notwithstanding important improvements in certain areas since the early 2000s – access to healthcare in Yemen was limited especially in rural areas, and health outcomes generally poor. Since March 2015, the capacity of an already weak health system to respond to growing need has been crippled by infrastructure damage (including sometimes direct targeting of health facilities), supply shortages and safety concerns for health workers. There is evidence that vaccination coverage for key diseases such as measles fell to 54% by the end of last year . The number of Yemeni children at risk of severe acute malnutrition has doubled since the start of the conflict, and now stands at 320,000. Around 54% of the Yemeni population cannot access basic health care. Yet with the rest of the region also in a state of tumult, the war in Yemen is currently not at the top of the international community’s agenda. Already the poorest country in the region, the escalation in the conflict and blockade over the last year has pushed it even further out of sight and further into poverty and desperation. Whilst humanitarian efforts rightly continue to be the focus of engagements on the ground in Yemen, a longer-term perspective on health systems reconstruction is also needed.
With the huge challenges of working within conflict-affected settings, there is a key role for the diaspora in peace-building and development efforts. Musahamatna, a UK-based network of volunteers and organisations, is holding a process of engagement with the Yemeni diaspora and other interested people in the UK to consider new evidence on the impact of the conflict on Yemen’s health system and identify some priority actions to strengthen the system when the fighting calms.
In November 2015, Musahamatna held a workshop at the Health Through Peace conference in London, organised by Medact. This workshop brought together around 70 people from varying backgrounds to discuss the health situation in Yemen, and begin to think about priorities for reconstruction. Initial findings were drawn together in a report, available in English and Arabic.
On 4th June 2016, Musahamatna will be running a second workshop in Liverpool, in collaboration with the Liverpool Arab Arts Festival and the ReBUILD research consortium , aiming this time for at least half of the participants to be Yemeni. We are grateful also to have support from Saferworld who have a long track record of work in Yemen on conflict resolution.
Participants will be asked to consider new evidence on the impact of the conflict on health and the health system in Yemen over the past 6 months, and then think through some priority actions that could be taken to strengthen the health system when the fighting calms. Findings from the day will be used to help build a plan for health system reconstruction in Yemen once the conflict subsides. Ultimately, we hope that this will make a practical contribution to rebuilding health services for Yemenis across the country in years to come.
Besides members of the Yemeni diaspora community in the UK and abroad, workshop participants will include healthcare workers, public health practitioners and humanitarian aid workers and students with an interest in health and humanitarian affairs.
We invite all those with an interest in health in Yemen to attend this workshop, which will be held at the Greenbank Sports Academy, Greenbank Lane, L17 1AG. For more details or to find out more about the project, please visit the Musahamatna website.
If you are interested in this or in wider issues of health systems in conflict and fragility, please look at joining the HSG Thematic Working Group on Health Systems in Fragile and Conflict-Affected States.
 Coverage for measles vaccination should be 85% or more to guarantee population-wide protection from illness.
 The ReBUILD research programme has been building a body of work on post-conflict health systems in other contexts, and in particular on how decisions taken after conflict affect health workers and poor households’ access to health care.