The World Health Organization’s Margaret Chan published a statement this week decrying the health situation in Yemen, in which conflict killed almost 2,000 people, and injured 8,000, according to the latest death and casualty tolls.

Yemen was in serious trouble far before the most recent escalation, when a Saudi-led coalition began attacking the country from the air in late March. Houthi rebels overran the capital Sana’a last September, effectively putting an end to the presidency of Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi. Since then, the Houthis, who are allied with Hadi’s predecessor Ali Abdullah Saleh and widely thought to have Iranian backing, have pushed south. A financial crisis has taken hold, deeply destructive for a country in which more than half the population lives below the poverty line.

Despite the significant progress Yemen has made to expand and improve its health care system over the past decade, the system remains severely underdeveloped. Total expenditures on health care in 2002 constituted 3.7 percent of gross domestic product. In that same year, the per capita expenditure for health care was very low, as compared with other Middle Eastern countries according to the World Health Organization. According to the World Bank, the number of doctors in Yemen rose by an average of more than 7 percent between 1995 and 2000, but as of 2004 there were still only three doctors per 10,000 persons. In 2003 Yemen had only 0.6 hospital beds available per 1,000 persons.

This unnecessary loss of innocent lives cannot go on. The health system must be allowed to function unimpeded by the insecurity. Medicines for diabetes, hypertension and cancer are no longer available, as per the WHO. The National Tuberculosis Programme has shut down in some areas, and infectious diseases such as malaria and dengue fever are spreading.

Outbreaks of polio and measles are also serious risks.