Many civilians continue to live in Saada, northern Yemen, despite almost daily airstrikes in the area. Michael Seawright from Auckland, New Zealand, was recently Project Coordinator for Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) projects in the war-torn region.
I’ve worked in war zones for the past 11 to 12 years, in some of the worst conflicts like Syria, but I have never seen such destruction conducted in such a short period as in Yemen. I was based in Saada, in the north, in a Houthi-controlled area that was experiencing almost daily attacks from Coalition air forces. These air strikes were often close to our facilities and we clearly felt their effects.
As Project Coordinator, an important part of my job was helping new staff acclimatise to the security situation. While most of our staff were experienced with MSF, many were yet to experience that level of conflict, and close proximity to attacks.
Extreme trauma injuries
I’d never before seen the level of casualties I saw in Saada. The scale of wounded was extreme in two respects – firstly there was a large number of wounded coming through the hospital, but second the severity of wounds was also often extreme.
MSF was running the emergency department, operating theatre, inpatient and maternity ward in what grew to become a 93-bed hospital in Saada City. We were receiving a lot of patients with severe injuries, including traumatic amputations – people would come in missing feet, hands and with severe abdominal and head trauma.
Many of the wounded had travelled from four to five hours away, given that it was the only hospital with emergency surgical capacity in the province, in fact in most of northern Yemen. There were lots of patients: we were seeing over 2,000 emergency cases a month and more than 100 surgeries a week.
If you combine that with the security situation keeping people awake, it was quite challenging, especially for our medical staff many of whom were on call 24-hours a day due to staff shortages across the country.
Despite the volatility of the conflict, life goes on, and as always pregnant women need somewhere safe to deliver their babies. The maternity ward, supported by MSF, delivered over 100 babies a week in the hospital. This was a source of pride for them but also reassuring for the wider population to know that while lives were being lost new life was being created.