AL-MUKALLA: An outbreak of the deadly dengue fever in Yemen is putting the country’s strained health system under huge pressure as it prepares for the prospect of dealing with a flood of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) patients, doctors have warned.
Health workers at Ibn Sina hospital in Al-Mukalla, the capital of Yemen’s southeastern Hadramout province, staged a protest calling for staff to be issued with personal protective equipment (PPE) after they were forced to treat a patient who died with suspected COVID-19, without having even gloves or masks to wear.
Recent flash floods across Yemen have led to a new wave of dengue fever that has killed as many as 59 people and infected more than 7,400 others. The virus, spread by mosquitoes, causes respiratory problems and symptoms very similar to COVID-19.
Due to a lack of cash, local health authorities in Yemen have been unable to carry out vital insecticide spraying and they are calling for immediate intervention from the Yemeni government and international aid organizations to curb the spread of dengue fever before the number of patients with the disease overwhelms hospitals.
Tawfeeq Balteour, a doctor at Ibn Sina Hospital, said that although tests later found the young male patient had died from dengue fever and not COVID-19, worried medics held a demonstration the next day appealing for PPE.
“The (hospital) administration says it will release its stock of the equipment (PPE) when the first case (of COVID-19) occurs,” said Balteour, who joined the protest. “Seasonal fever deaths are causing fear among doctors.”
Officials told Arab News there was a severe shortage of PPE and the hospital was conserving stocks until new World Health Organization (WHO) supplies arrived.
Aden, Taiz, Lahj, Hadramout, Abyan and Shabwa have been the areas worst affected by the latest outbreak of dengue fever said Dr. Yasser Abdullah Baheshm, director of the Aden-based National Malaria Control Program, adding that 42 people had died from the disease in Aden alone. Doctors in Yemeni hospitals are becoming increasingly wary about treating patients showing symptoms of COVID-19.
Farouq Qaid Naji, a doctor at Al-Jumhuriya Hospital in the port city of Aden, told Arab News: “We receive at least 25 new cases (of dengue fever) daily. Each new case frightens doctors, nurses and health workers.”
Hospital administrators have set up a special tent to handle dengue fever cases in a bid to help ease fears and pressure in emergency rooms.
Baheshm called for swift Yemeni government action to tackle the spread of dengue fever in case COVID-19 sweeps the country.
“Health facilities are burdened with dengue fever cases and the diseases have distracted attention and efforts to fight COVID-19. Most of beds at Ibn Sina hospital are taken by dengue fever patients. We need those beds for coronavirus patients.
“After the recent rains and floods, I expect the number of cases and deaths will increase rapidly. We are urgently in need of a health education campaign. We also seek to target vector breeding sites and launch indoor and outdoor fogging spray,” he added.