Tankred Stöbe is an intensive care physician in Berlin. He has been helping in crisis and conflict areas for years. From 2007 to 2015 he was chairman of the German section of “Doctors without Borders”.
Mr Stöbe, you recently worked for several weeks as a doctor in intensive care in a Yemeni clinic. How should you imagine the daily work there?
Dramatic on the one hand, because in the trauma center in the city of Aden, managed by Doctors Without Borders, we treat dozens of seriously injured war victims every day. On the other hand, the team tries to restore something like normalcy in the chaos of violence with impressive routine.
First of all, this includes making people healthy again. It is not easy. There are always bomb blasts and serious road accidents with many victims being hospitalized.
The employees try to help the people despite the misery of the war. 40 percent of patients have gunshot wounds. Others have had road accidents. Some of the broken bones look like debris fields that I couldn’t imagine would ever heal again. But if the injured make it to the trauma center, the chances of recovery are high. Besides all the terrible things, there is always good. Only: the war never ends.
Shooting and bombing continues in Yemen. Tens of thousands have already died. Millions of people have been displaced. International support for this war must end immediately. Peace negotiations must finally come. It is an incredible tragedy that the world forgets this conflict and only looks at the dying.
Infected and saved. Samar spent five weeks in an artificial coma. There is hardly a family in the country who is not from … Photo: Doctors Without Borders
The disaster in Yemen is now being exacerbated by Covid-19. How hard is the pandemic hitting the desperately poor Arab country?
Perhaps an example can illustrate the dire situation. A woman named Samar was infected with the coronavirus. The 30-year-old had a high fever, cough and shortness of breath. It was clear she had to go to a hospital.
But they sent them away from three clinics because nowhere corona patients were accepted. Ultimately, the Yemenite was treated at the only Covid-19 clinic. When they were placed, their oxygen saturation was only 36 percent; normally this should be more than 90 percent.
Water is a rare commodity in Yemen and it is almost impossible to wash your hands Photo: Essa Ahmed / AFP
That sounds dramatic.
The situation was extremely critical. She spent five weeks in an artificial coma on a ventilator. In the end, Samar survived, but only with a lot of luck. Yemen was not at all prepared for the virus. It swept the land like a deadly desert storm.
There is hardly a family that is not affected by the pandemic. The official figures do not reflect this, because hardly any testing has been done. The vast majority of patients suffocate at home without being counted, diagnosed, or treated.
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Why do people stay at home even when they are seriously ill?
There are several reasons for this. Those who contract Corona are being stigmatized. The fear of the virus is great. And people are misinformed. But the truth also includes: where should the infected go?
Due to the war, there is almost no treatment capacity. MSF-Holland has therefore built a Covid 19 clinic, with 40 beds immediately occupied. Mortality was very high because the patients were late. The average length of stay was five days – not because people recovered afterward, but because they died.
At first we didn’t even have oxygen, so we had to transport the individual bottles through a war-torn city. There is also a lack of protective equipment, nurses and doctors. We can hardly imagine such circumstances in Germany.
Tankred Stöbe is an intensive care physician in Berlin. He has been involved with Doctors Without Borders for years. Photo: imago / Future Image
Compliance with hygiene and distance rules is out of the question, right?
They can hardly be observed in a country like Yemen. The families are large, people live in a small space and eat together. And there is no water, so washing your hands is an illusion. But we should also remember that the deadly threat of war is much more tangible to humans than an invisible, albeit deadly, virus.
In Germany, citizens, authorities and hospitals were able to prepare for the pandemic. None of this was possible in Yemen. The virus has entered society uncontrolled and left a deadly trail. Anyone who gets Covid-19 in Yemen probably has the greatest chance of survival anywhere in the world. (Christian Böhme conducted the interview over the phone.)