“Airplane of the Sick” is what employees at Cairo Airport call the Yemenia plane that arrives from Yemen. Why? because on that plane, there are often a number of sick people arriving for medical treatment.

Anyone who flew on Yemenia, from Yemen to either Cairo or Jordan will notice the high number of sick patients on the plane, some even laying down in critical condition. On several occasions, patients have died on the plane.

Despite the progress Yemen has made to expand its health care system, it remains severely underdeveloped and therefore many try to seek medical treatment abroad.

Of course the rich can afford to travel to the Gulf, Europe and the U.S. for yearly checkups and medical examinations. In fact, former President Saleh himself had to fly out of the country when the Presidential palace was attacked and he was severely wounded. In the 33 years of his rule, his regime did not even invest in one decent hospital where he could have went for treatment!

The “lucky” ones in Yemen, manage to borrow money or sell what they can to travel to India, Jordan, Egypt or sometimes Lebanon for medical treatment.

However, for the majority of society, clinics and hospitals are rare, overcrowded and expensive. In fact, only 25 percent of rural areas (where majority of population resides) have health services as compared to 80 percent of urban areas.

Even basic cases such as giving birth can be deadly in Yemen. It is unbelievable for example that eight women die giving birth every day.

Most people have to travel quite a distance to get to a clinic or hospital. When they do, it is often extremely expensive. With no health insurance, if a life threatening disease infects someone, or an accident occurs, people have to either borrow money to pay for the expenses, or accept the harsh reality that they can not afford the treatment and therefore must wait to die.

My relative was lucky, she has a large family who helped with her expenses. Six months ago, Ina’am, a young school administrator in her late 20’s suddenly became sick. When she went to get a blood test she fell in a coma for a couple of months. When she woke up, she could not speak or move, but she was aware of her surroundings. The doctors could not identify the cause of the problem, and therefore, as is often the case, they recommended that she seek treatment abroad.

After sending her medical file to India and Egypt (where costs are relatively affordable and there are no problems with visas for Yemenis) doctors there did not accept her case. Doctors in Saudi Arabia accepted her case but she could not get a visa. Then finally, a hospital in Jordan accepted her case, and because Yemenis do not need a visa, she was able to go there. Her family borrowed money and sold some things so they could afford to pay for two round-trip tickets, housing rental, and of course medical costs.

When they arrived in Jordan, the doctors examined her and said in front of her (she was conscious and could hear): “why did you bring her here? this is pointless! did you bring her to die in Jordan or what?!”

This careless cruel way of speaking was extremely hurtful, disrespectful and unprofessional. Ina’am returned to Yemen and miraculously got better, she even began speaking. Little did we know that it was the body’s way of rejuvenating itself to allow her to say goodbye to the family. She passed away three days ago without a proper diagnosis.

In our efforts to promote change in Yemen, lets not only focus on political rights, but also on basic rights such as demanding our right for affordable and accessible health care.

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