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Health facilities face indiscriminate attacks in Taiz City, Yemen

Friday, March 20, 2020 — Repeated attacks affecting health facilities supported by Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) in the city of Taiz are compromising our ability to deliver effective medical care for Yemenis.

Between 2018 and 2020, MSF has recorded at least 40 incidents of violence against the MSF-supported Al-Thawra General Hospital, its personnel and patients, including shootings inside or near hospital premises. Hospital buildings and structures were hit more than 15 times by small arms fire and shelling, and there were several incidents of medical staff being harassed and attacked.

MSF renews its call on all warring parties to take all necessary measures to respect health facilities and hospitals as humanitarian spaces and to end indiscriminate attacks and other violations that threaten the lives of healthcare workers, patients and caretakers. Direct and indirect acts of violence against medical facilities not only endanger the lives of medical staff and patients, but also place additional barriers on an already constrained and fragile essential healthcare system.

Al-Thawra General Hospital is considered the largest public hospital in Taiz City. It has been struck by indiscriminate shelling from the armed forces of the Ansar Allah group and has suffered armed incidents committed by armed groups linked to the internationally recognised Government of Yemen.

  • “In Al-Thawra hospital, staff no longer feel safe in what should be a protected space. Patients avoid coming to the hospital, fearing for their lives, even when it is their only viable option for medical care,” says Corinne Benazech, MSF Operations Manager in Yemen.

Such attacks have also driven away medical staff from the hospital, as they look for ‘safer’ work elsewhere.

  • “As medical staff, your life is threatened at every moment in this hospital,” says Hashem, a staff member at Al-Thawra hospital. “Most of the medical staff have left after the many attacks. There is only one orthopaedic specialist left and two specialists in general surgery. The rest of the specialists are no longer here.”*

Although the rate of aerial bombardment and artillery fire impacting medical facilities in Taiz fell in 2019, episodes of violence continue to be a major concern.

On multiple occasions, armed intruders have killed patients receiving medical care inside the hospital. Such attacks have led to the suspension of MSF’s activities on multiple occasions, preventing people from accessing vital medical care.

Earlier this month, fighting erupted across the eastern side of Taiz City and quickly spilled into the city, with shelling striking residential areas. On 13 March, Al-Thawra hospital’s emergency room received eight people who had been killed in the violence that day. The hospital itself was struck multiple times by shelling on the same day. Only a week earlier, on 5 March, a similar incident took place, when the hospital’s general laboratory was damaged and a medical staff member inside was wounded.

Armed actors outside the city must cease indiscriminately firing into Taiz City, and armed actors inside the city must also, to the extent feasible, avoid locating military sites near densely populated areas. MSF has raised this issue with the relevant authorities but unfortunately our warnings have been ignored.

  • “The actions of the warring parties demonstrate a blatant disregard for the neutrality of hospitals and medical spaces. Every day, medical staff make courageous decisions to continue to provide healthcare despite the risks, for the benefit of Yemeni patients dependent on this care. All parties involved in this conflict have a responsibility under International Humanitarian Law to ensure civilians and civilian infrastructure, including hospitals, are respected and protected,” says Benazech.

NOTE TO EDITOR

Since 2015, Taiz City, in south-west Yemen, has been engulfed in multiple frontlines that divided the city in two. The persistent active fighting has long impeded Yemenis’ access to basic services, particularly to essential healthcare.

By the end of 2015, MSF started supporting Al-Thawra Hospital in Taiz City, and quickly extended its support in 2016 to include two other key public hospitals, Al-Jumhouri and the Yemeni Swedish Hospital, to cover the health needs of the population.

From 2015 to the end of 2019, MSF-supported hospitals in Taiz City have treated 15,263 war-wounded, performed more than 3,400 surgeries, have seen 76,766 patients in the emergency room, assisted in more than 8,700 deliveries, and conducted more than 9,500 out-patient department consultations for paediatrics.

*Name changed to protect privacy and confidentiality