‘All patients have given up, even the ones with money,’ Abdo Ahmen Mohammed Qassem, had explained to the Norwegian Refugee Council.
The 47 year old teacher and father of six from Yemen, had spent the last 13 years suffering from a liver illness called Bilharzia, (a disease caused by parasitic worms). His doctors have told him can only be treated properly abroad.
‘Every doctor I visited, gave me a different opinion. Some of them told me that even outside the country the disease I have cannot be treated. I need to have a liver transplant. Some doctors told me that there might be a cure for me outside Yemen other than the liver transplant surgery and the high costs.’
However, due to an air blockade on Yemen’s Sana’a International Airport, Yemenis hoping to seek treatment for life threatening illnesses have been prevented from leaving the country.
Around 32,000 dead
Last week marked the third consecutive year since Yemen’s airspace and main airport were closed off to inbound and outbound travel, the Norwegian Refugee Council and CARE International had said.
Within that time around 32,000 people had died because they had been unable to leave the country in order to seek medical treatment, they added.
According to Yemen’s Ministry for Health, the airport had been a key channel for those seeking treatment for a range of medical conditions involving the heart, kidney and liver disease, blood conditions, cancer and other long-term health conditions. Before the blockade, around 7,000 people are understood to have travelled out annually.
Qassem would’ve been one of those people.
‘It used to be very easy to travel, patients used to go to Jordan, India, China, Malaysia and Germany for medical treatment. Relatives and organizations used to sponsor their medical trips. They used to take them from hospital to Egypt, I used to see this happening as I have been suffering for 13 years. They took them to Jordan and Germany. When they get there they receive proper treatment and recover.’
‘I didn’t get the chance to go at that time and now when I need it most the airport is closed,’ Qassem adds.
The alternative to flying is an extensive car journey which can take most of a day and comes with its own perils. This often involves taking the land route towards Aden or Seiyun located in Southern Yemen. The journey is understood to take between 15 and 24 hours to complete and involves regular checkpoints and brushes with the on-going fighting.
‘An eight-hour trip is very difficult in my case, as fluid will start building in my stomach and legs. If I sit more than three hours in a car this is what happens.’
Even if those making it through the many checkpoints and brushes with the on-going civil war, there still isn’t a guarantee of being allowed to board a plane.
‘People may face many security issues when travelling Sana’a to Aden airport as the situation is not stable. There is no help from the authorities in Aden for us to travel there,’ Qassem explains.
This level of difficulty and number of hurdles to jump through just to get medical help outside the country, has many people to give up.
‘It is not only me, all patients have given up. Even those who have the money to travel gave up. It is difficult for some of them to travel to Aden and do the pre-travel procedure. (obtaining passports, visas, medical reports, travel authorization).’
‘We wish they open the airport so anyone who can pay the expenses is able to travel and seek treatment outside. This is my wish.’
Abdo Ahmen Mohammed Qassem died on June 19th 2019.
Footage: Karl Schembri, Middle East Media Adviser, Norwegian Refugee Council