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Yemen Reports Its 1st COVID-19 Case

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Now to Yemen where aid workers say they're bracing for the worst after the country recorded its first coronavirus case this week. After five years of fighting between a Saudi-led alliance and the Iran-backed Houthi rebels, the health care system in Yemen is already battered. NPR's Jane Arraf has this report from Amman, Jordan.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: (Crying).

JANE ARRAF, BYLINE: In a UNICEF video, children are treated at a Yemeni hospital for malnutrition and disease. Three-quarters of the population now depends on food and medical aid, most of it delivered or funded by aid organizations. Yemen has been largely cut off from the world by fighting. This week, it recorded its first COVID-19 case. Lise Grande, the head of the U.N.'s humanitarian program in Yemen, spoke to us from the capital, Sanaa. She says the country is not prepared as the virus spreads.

LISE GRANDE: Authorities in the north and authorities in the south, they have stopped the arrival of passengers. They've gone into a lockdown. We're struggling to get the kind of equipment and the kind of resources and the kinds of medicines that we need here.

ARRAF: U.N. agencies are competing for things like ventilators and coronavirus tests in what has become a global competition for lifesaving resources. Yemen imports almost all of its food and medicine. The new restrictions have made getting food and medical care to people even more difficult. The Norwegian Refugee Council's advocacy director, Sultana Begum, speaking to us from London, says she has appealed to Yemeni authorities to allow aid operations to continue.

SULTANA BEGUM: As Yemen prepares, there are new restrictions that are being put in place, restrictions in movement, restrictions in terms of road closures, in terms of U.N. flights carrying aid workers coming in and out of the country. So our appeal to them, really, is when they're preparing to combat the virus that they find safe measures to work with us.

ARRAF: The U.N. is also facing a funding crisis, in part because last month, the United States cut off tens of millions of dollars in aid to Yemen, saying some aid was at risk of being diverted by armed groups.

GRANDE: There are 41 major U.N. programs, and 31 of those programs will either be shut this month of April or reduced. We're talking food programs, health programs, water and sanitation programs, protection programs, shelter programs. So we have the crisis created by the war. We have the crisis created by COVID.

ARRAF: All that is amid a fragile cease-fire. The U.N.'s political envoy says he will try to bring the two sides back to talks, even if it's a virtual negotiating table. Jane Arraf, NPR News, Amman, Jordan.

(SOUNDBITE OF KHRUANGBIN'S "FOUR OF FIVE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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