Yemen: Treating COVID-19 amongst fear, stigma and misinformation

One year into the COVID-19 pandemic in Yemen; stigma, disinformation, fear of detention and lack of knowledge on the presence of isolation centres continue to deter people from seeking timely treatment for the disease.

“Some patients stay at home for a while after they get symptoms and may arrive in the late stages of the disease,” says Saddam, intensive care unit supervisor at the Al-Jumhouri isolation centre in Sanaa. “Many are transferred here without oxygen, especially those coming from far places.

“We, therefore, advise all patients to go to the nearest health centre once they develop symptoms such as fever, cough or difficulty in breathing,” says Saddam. “From there, patients can be transferred to the nearest COVID-19 treatment centre if they need further care.” 

Misinformation, fear and stigma

Another concern is the spread of misinformation about isolation centres, as well as fear of stigma. People fear that they will receive lethal injections, or even be detained against their will if they visit a COVID-19 centre. Many patients and caretakers insist on leaving the hospital early, against medical advice, because they worry the longer they stay, the higher the chances that they may be stigmatised by relatives and friends.

Hamdi is an X-ray technician in the MSF-supported isolation centre in Al-Jumhouri Hospital, Sanaa. Yemen, June 2021. © MSF/MAJD ALJUNAID

In Yemen, there are very few fully functional COVID-19 treatment centres. In other treatment centres, the health personnel often don’t feel comfortable working without the required protective equipment, while fear of stigmatisation hinders access to the few functional centres.

Muhammad, a patient in Al-Jumhouri COVID-19 treatment centre, says that he was not aware of any health facilities in Dhamar governorate, where he lives, that can provide care for COVID-19 patients. He, therefore, had to travel three hours to Sanaa.  After his recovery, he jokingly tells us while he stands next to his son at the exit gate of Al-Jumhouri COVID-19 centre, that the team provided him with a quality of care even his sons could not give him. 

For many patients reaching the MSF-supported COVID-19 treatment centre in Al-Jumhouri hospital in Sanaa, the journey is a long and difficult one. 


“Patients come to us from the different governorates of Yemen, such as Hajjah, Al-Mahwit and Hodeidah – between three to six hours by car from Sanaa.”


“We also provide support to patients and build confidence between patients and medical staff to reduce the fear they have, and this is clearly reflected when they leave the centre in good health.”

Gilles Grandclement, project coordinator for the MSF COVID-19 response in Al-Jumhouri Hospital reminds and encourages all of us that we are all in this together. “COVID-19 is affecting all of us, it is everyone’s responsibility to contribute to the control of this spreading disease and protect each other from getting it,” he says. 

“It’s very important that we apply those very simple hygiene rules, like wearing masks in crowded areas, keeping distance and washing hands. These measures will prevent more infection transmission,” says Grandclement.

Please always remember to seek care if you develop a cough, fever or difficulty in breathing. COVID-19 treatment centres are specifically developed to provide optimal lifesaving care for COVID-19 patients.

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