SANAA (Reuters) – While waiting for a sponsor to pay for surgery for a congenital heart defect, gangrene from the untreated disease has eaten away at the foot of 16-year-old Zamzam Hizam.
She is one of millions of Yemenis struggling to get life-saving medical care due to a seven-year war that has destroyed Yemen’s health system, hampered the entry of foreign surgeons, restricted foreign travel by inhabitants and spread poverty.
Mohammed al-Kebsi, head of the heart center at al-Thawra Hospital in the capital Sanaa, said the department had nearly 3,000 children awaiting complex heart surgery.
“The (foreign) medical teams were coming to treat about 100 cases a week… Now the cases have been piling up due to the lack of medical teams and sophisticated specialized medical equipment,” he said, adding that they handled the cases they could.
Luckily for Hizam, a sponsor showed up this week to cover the estimated $2,000 for an artificial heart valve. His father, who recycles plastic bottles for money, will have to pay him back.
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Yemen’s economy collapsed in the war between a Saudi-led coalition and the Houthi group that ousted the internationally recognized government in Sanaa in late 2014.
A coalition blockade on Houthi-held areas left Sanaa airport closed to civilian flights for years.
The war drove the Hizam family to flee their home in 2015 and uprooted them again last year. After traveling to Sanaa for medical treatment, Hizam’s father struggled to find shelter for his other two small children.
So they slept rough outside the hospital while her daughter waited for a sponsor – hoping another blood clot wouldn’t cause further damage.
The United Nations and other aid agencies have supported parts of Yemen’s crumbling health system, but funding has fallen short of needs in recent years.
A UN-led fundraising campaign on Wednesday received just $1.3 billion for this year’s $4.27 billion aid package, with agencies warning that food projects, health and sanitation will be further reduced.
On another hospital bed, three-and-a-half-year-old Jabir’s father is unsure how he will pay the $830 for surgery to implant a new $1,400 pacemaker after the original ruptured.
“I don’t have any money, I barely had the money to buy the device,” he said.
(Reporting by Abdulrahman al-Ansi and Khaled Abdullah, writing by Lisa Barrington, editing by William Maclean)
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