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Yemen Teeters On Brink Of A New 'Catastrophe' As Blood Bank Eyes Closure

A medical worker sorts blood test samples at the National Blood Transfusion and Research Centre in Sanaa on Wednesday.
Hani Mohammed

In the past two years, Yemen has endured no end of crises.

At least 10,000 people have been killed in the war between Iran-backed Houthis and the Saudi-led coalition seeking to oust them from power. Still, Yemen's health ministry says that violence has exacted a smaller death toll than the closure of the airport in the capital, Sanaa, which has left thousands more people incapable of seeking medical treatment abroad.

And both tolls pale in comparison to the cholera outbreak now ravaging the country, where an eroding infrastructure has allowed the disease to fester at a frightening rate. In the past three months alone, there have been nearly half a million suspected cases of the preventable disease, which has killed nearly 2,000 people, according to the United Nations.

Yet local health officials say the country stands on the brink of still another crisis: The national blood bank could be forced to shut down within a week, bereft of both funds and supplies.

National Blood Transfusion Centre has stopped receiving donations from the charity Doctors Without Borders, which after two years handed over its responsibilities to the World Health Organization. And while the WHO says it has ordered supplies for the facility, those shipments have yet to arrive.

In a violence-racked country where access is difficult, there is no guarantee that they will.

If the blood bank should be forced to shutter, spokesman Munir al-Zubaidi tells NPR's Ruth Sherlock the entire country could be facing a humanitarian "catastrophe."

Ruth notes the facility treats some 3,000 patients a month, helping "those with war wounds and ailments like cancer and kidney failure."

"We are appealing to civil society organisations, businessmen, and all those doing charity work to save the lives of these patients and the wounded, so the centre does not go out of business," medical worker Adnan Al-Hakimi tells Al Jazeera.

Since Sanaa's international airport closed one year ago Wednesday, shuttered by the Saudi-led coalition's restrictions on Yemeni airspace, foreign aid agencies have struggled to fight what has become an increasingly dire humanitarian situation.

"Without access to safe, commercial travel, Yemenis are left with no way to access critical medical care," Mutasim Hamdan, the Norwegian Refugee Council's director in Yemen, said Wednesday in a statement.

And with Yemen's war now mired in stalemate, Hamdan says the greater danger continues to rest with the interruption of basic health services — like the blood bank — that Yemenis rely on to survive.

"The result is devastating," he adds. "Thousands of women, men and children who could have been saved have now lost their lives."

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Colin Dwyer covers breaking news for NPR. He reports on a wide array of subjects — from politics in Latin America and the Middle East, to the latest developments in sports and scientific research.
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