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Yemen: "We treat a lot of children injured from playing with guns"
When I flew into Sana’a I was really shocked to see so many buildings destroyed. Hospitals, schools, people’s homes, so much of Yemen has been obliterated.
It’s heartbreaking to see a country, already so poor, being blasted to smithereens.
I would hear the planes circling at night. Just knowing they’re out there, bombing and targeting different areas, was horrifying. You could hear the airstrikes when they hit, and sometimes it happened very close to where we were living.
I would have staff calling through the night, saying: ‘there’s been an airstrike here, we can see it from our house – there are buildings on fire’.
The Yemeni MSF staff are nothing short of incredible. When cholera hit, they were terrified. We were all terrified, but they hadn’t seen it before.
"Of all the risks they took to get to us – airstrikes, bullets, bombs and cholera – it was lightning that struck them."
Our Yemeni staff are suffering
Then they saw how fast it was killing people. But, instead of shying away from it, they took it on and would work 24 hours a day.
Our Yemeni staff are really suffering. Not only because the economy has collapsed, but they all have a story of someone close to them who has fallen sick, or died of a preventable disease.
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They might know someone fighting on the frontlines, or someone who has been kidnapped. They are going through so much, but they still come to work every day.
We treat a lot of war-wounded in the hospital. We see a lot of civilians not only as a direct result of the fighting, but also from accidental shootings.
Struck by lightning
For every person in Yemen, there are three to five guns. We treat a lot of children who were accidentally injured, often from playing with guns. These injuries often result in spinal or brain damage.
I’ll never forget the day a family was brought to the hospital suffering from severe burns. They had been travelling to reach the facility, when they had been struck by lightning.
Of all the risks they took to get to us – airstrikes, bullets, bombs and cholera – it was lightning that struck them.
"I went every day to see the girl, and mainly to see her mother, to try and offer them some hope, some comfort."
This mother lost four of her children. It doesn’t even bear thinking about. The mother and father survived, as did their three-year-old daughter.
But the little girl had 30 percent burns to her body. We had to amputate her hands, and one of her feet. I went to visit her every day in the intensive care unit.
I couldn’t do much, I’m not a medic, but I went to see her every day. The MSF surgeon who is Yemeni, and who has worked for us for about 10 years, had called me when they first came in.
"Her mother needs hope"
He said, “we have this case, there’s this little girl. Can you come and visit? Her mother needs hope.”
I remember the mother was in absolute distress. I went every day to see the girl, and mainly to see her mother, to try and offer them some hope, some comfort.
To be there for this family and support them; that was one of the hardest memories. To see this poor little girl, and this family, destroyed by a freak accident.
There’s a tendency in the West to think that these people are fighting each other and it’s their fault. But the conflict in Yemen is more complex than that.
At the end of the day, whoever is responsible doesn’t matter. The people suffering the most are the children, the mothers, the elderly. And they’ve suffered for too long.