Sunday Dec 04, 2022

Cut off by COVID and conflict, Canadian medical mission to Yemen goes virtual – CBC News


It’s not how Dr. William Cherniak pictured it would go.

The emergency room doctor at Markham Stouffville Hospital north of Toronto is co-founder of a group called Bridge to Health, a Canadian non-governmental organization that delivers medical and dental aid to countries around the world.

He had just received approval for a pilot project to train doctors in Yemen to use portable ultrasound machines. Then came COVID-19.

“Initially, we were supposed to actually fly in and bring the devices with us for an initial one-week training period, but then, the pandemic kicked in just as we got approval for the grant,” he said.

Dr. William Cherniak, an emergency room doctor at Markham Stouffville Hospital north of Toronto, co-founded Bridge to Health. The NGO enlisted the help of MedGlobal, an American non-profit group on the ground, once the pandemic upended its plans to deliver the devices to Yemen and train medical staff in person. (Philip Lee-Shanok/CBC)

He’s led missions to Uganda and Kenya using the same technology, which relies on a hand-held scanner that connects to a smartphone or tablet, but says it’s the first time people in Yemen are being trained to use the scanners.

“We had to figure out how to get these into a country without us going — how to get them to the hospitals we are working with and how do we train people virtually,” Cherniak said.

The portable ultrasound devices connect a scanner to a smartphone or tablet, making it easier for doctors to diagnose at the bedside. (Bridge to Health)

Majority of Yemenis rely on humanitarian assistance

The impact of COVID-19 has been disproportionately harder on poorer countries, and in Yemen, the situation has been made worse by a civil war that has lasted since 2014, when Houthi rebels ousted President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi and seized control of northern Yemen.

Saudi Arabia entered the war in 2015, heading a coalition that backed the country’s Sunni faction against the Houthis, who are Zaidi, a minority Shia sect, and have Iran’s support.

Yemeni government soldiers fire a canon mounted on a vehicle at the frontline of fighting against Houthis in Marib, Yemen, Jan. 14, 2022. The war in between Houthi rebels and government forces has been going on since late 2014. (Handout/Yemeni Armed Forces/Reuters)

According to the United Nations, more than 233,000 people have been killed in the conflict and more than four million people have been forced to flee their homes.

The UN considers Yemen one of the poorest countries in the Arab world, and food insecurity, lack of access to clean water and a fragile health care system mean an estimated 24.1 million people, or about 80 per cent of the population, are in need of some form of humanitarian assistance.

Canada has pledged $70 million in aid for Yemen but has been criticized by the UN and others for continuing to sell military equipment to Saudi Arabia. According to Global Affairs Canada in 2020, Canadian weapons exports to that country totalled $1.3 billion.

The ongoing conflict and pandemic travel restrictions have also stopped fly-in medical missions from Canada and the United States. 

LISTEN | UN report calls out Canada for selling arms to Saudi Arabia:

The Current24:35An escalation …….


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