Director-General's Office

High-Level Event on the Humanitarian Response in Yemen

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus
Director-General of the World Health Organization

United Nations General Assembly, New York, USA
24 September 2018

Mr Mark Lowcock, Ms Lise Grande,

Excellencies, colleagues, friends, ladies and gentlemen.

My first visit as soon as I became DG was to Yemen, and I visited DG as foreign minister in 2014. When you compare the two, it’s very sad how the country has deteriorated in just three years.

You’ve heard about the desperate situation in Yemen. Lise has already given you the detailed account.

More than 22 million people are still in need of humanitarian assistance, and more than 16 million need health services.

Let me tell you about one of them. His name is Gailan Mohammed. He’s 28 years old and has kidney failure that requires dialysis several times a week.

He moved to Sana’a after the dialysis centre in his hometown, Taiz, was closed because of the conflict. He now lives in a garage in one of the most dangerous areas of Sana’a. It takes him 2 hours to walk to the hospital for treatment because he can’t afford to take public transport.

There are thousands of other dialysis patients like Gailan. Since 2016, WHO has delivered supplies for more than 75,000 dialysis sessions, and we have recently finalized arrangements for the provision of 600,000 more sessions. Patients in most provinces in Yemen will benefit from these services. That’s the human face of the needs we are facing, every single day.

Of course, no single institution can or should replace a country’s health ministry.

But the lack of investment in Yemen’s health system has led to total dependence on international partners to fill critical gaps, like paying health workers their salaries and bulk procurement of medicines and supplies.

Thanks to our donors – most of you in this room today – and partners, we have avoided a complete collapse of the health system, and managed to reach almost 11 million people with vital health services.

So far this year, we’ve vaccinated more than 650,000 people against cholera, 1.9 million against diphtheria and nearly 5 million against polio;

As Lise already said, there was a tranquillity period where we could vaccinate children. Reem Al Hashimi is actually with us in this room from UAE. She has been following the vaccination campaign directly. I don’t know how many times we’ve been talking to each other in a single day. Thank you, my sister, for your support and personal commitment.

We’ve set up almost 2000 disease surveillance sites, and trained 120 surveillance officers and coordinators;

We’re received and verified almost 150,000 outbreak alerts;

Together with our partners, we’ve delivered 138 million litres of clean water to 45 health facilities;

We’ve provided 450,000 medical consultations, 65,000 surgical interventions, and we’ve distributed more than 420,000 tonnes of health supplies.

Our experience in Yemen shows that even in protracted crises, it is both possible and necessary to provide humanitarian assistance in a way that doesn’t just alleviate suffering, but contributes to restoring health services.

This way of working bridges the artificial divide between humanitarian and development work and contributes to peacebuilding.

All of this was only possible because of flexible and unearmarked funding.

Flexible funding says, “We trust you to do your job”.

We understand that trust must be earned.

That’s why WHO and our partners are building a stronger culture of transparent and regular information sharing, internally and externally, to show exactly where and how we are using precious resources.

This also increases trust between partners and helps deliver real impact for those most in need.

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

Let me leave you with three requests.

First, we need all parties to the conflict to guarantee safe access to all parts of the country so our partners can continue to provide lifesaving services, for which Lise said we continue to need flexible financing;

Second, attacks on health workers and health facilities are never acceptable under any circumstances and must stop;

Third, health workers must be paid for the lifesaving services they are providing for their fellow citizens. This is a matter of dignity and solidarity.

The world is looking to us to do everything we can to bring relief to the people of Yemen.

Ultimately, we need a political solution to end the suffering of the people of Yemen, and to give them a healthier, safer, fairer future.

I thank my friend Mark for his leadership. The last year since he became OCHA head has been really great.

Thank you.