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Graham, a nurse from Auckland, has just returned from Yemen, on his 11th aid mission for New Zealand Red Cross. Over the years he has worked in some of the most challenging environments like Afghanistan and Syria, but he says his latest assignment was the toughest yet.
Yemen is a poor country with a long history of conflict and Graham was there to deliver primary healthcare to people in rural communities. In the northern areas of the country he provided medical supplies and support to eight clinics that treated pregnant women, people suffering from infectious diseases and children affected by malnutrition.
The clinics were of varying quality. The best was a new two-storey facility built by Red Cross – a model for what could be done. And the worst, an old rural hospital that was 90 per cent destroyed by conflict.
The first time Graham visited, he said he was shocked at the extent of the damage, but that the local staff were doing good work with what they had in makeshift dwellings and tents. Graham drew up plans to help rebuild the clinic to provide the community with its own model facility but, sadly, as conflict in Yemen escalated, his plans had to be put on hold.
Once the people wounded by the air strikes started to fill the hospitals, Graham needed to urgently prioritise the delivery of IV fluids, burn kits and other emergency medical supplies.
“There were airstrikes fairly continuously. It varied but there were commonly 70 to 100 people wounded every day. With that number of wounded on a daily basis, day after day, the amount of clinical supplies needed is always enormous. We’re talking tonnes – I mean tonnes – of supplies. So when you go along with a full truck or land cruiser, it’s only enough to last a couple of days,” Graham recalls.
As the fighting grew, large areas of Yemen became inaccessible and the airports and ports were closed. The country was cut off and it became incredibly difficult to get medical supplies and basic everyday items for survival, including food, to the people who needed it most.
As a neutral, independent and impartial organisation, Red Cross was able to gain access into Yemen and continue to bring in crucial aid.
“One of the reasons I’ve always been proud to work for Red Cross is that we are the first organisation to arrive and the last organisation to leave. In these situations, Red Cross plays a very important role.”
While Graham’s mission in Yemen is over, Red Cross is still delivering emergency medical and food aid to the innocent people caught up in this tragic situation. Graham says he hopes that when it is safe, the healthcare he began can resume.