The official coronavirus statistics in Yemen suggest the outbreak hasn’t been as severe as in places like the USA, Brazil and India. But the figures have barely changed in several weeks, suggesting a worrying lack of testing and reporting of cases.
Perhaps even more of a concern is how many Yemenis have returned to a state of pre-coronavirus normality. After a period of lockdown, businesses, schools, markets and mosques have opened once again.
Despite the nation’s government insisting that ‘opening up’ was to be done in line with necessary preventative methods such as social distancing and handwashing, this has not been monitored or enforced.
At the time of writing, according to the Yemeni government, there have been 2,030 confirmed cases and 587 deaths from coronavirus in Yemen. But it’s feared the actual numbers may be far greater. According to research by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, infections may have already reached one million.
'Many people are not wearing masks, and hugging and kissing – as is their culture.'
Karen Soerensen leads Tearfund’s work in Yemen. She’s concerned about the way the virus is being viewed by many:
‘We’re hearing reports from our partner in Yemen that life is ‘back to normal’,’ she says.
‘There appears to be a general public belief that the virus has either come and gone, just like any seasonal flu, or was just a rumour altogether.
‘Many people are not wearing masks, hugging and kissing – as is their culture – and there is now also a stigma associated with those wearing masks in public. The assumption is that if someone wears one, they themselves are ill.
‘It means our partner’s coronavirus response projects might not always be received enthusiastically by the public. Even so, our partner is delivering hygiene kits and information, alongside food baskets, which is proving the best way to go about it.’
Not going hungry
Tearfund’s partner staff are all equipped with personal protective equipment (including facemasks), and are being very careful in how they work. Praise God, none have had any coronavirus symptoms.
Akil* lives in the Abyan area of southern Yemen. As a shepherd he doesn’t earn enough to care for his family of nine.
Our partner saw his need and began to provide monthly food baskets for him and his family.
‘We suffered a lot before you provided us with the food baskets,’ Akil told our partner staff team.
‘After we received them I could buy medicine for my disabled granddaughter and also a water tank. Most importantly, my children do not go to sleep hungry anymore. It is all because of you. May God bless you! We hope you continue providing us with the food baskets, they help us a lot.’
You know the many challenges being faced by the people of Yemen. Please give strength and wisdom to those who are working to prevent the spread of coronavirus in the country. Please also bring an end to the terrible conflict there, which is pushing more people into extreme poverty. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.
*Names changed to protect identities