SANAA — Yemeni doctor Sami Yahya al-Hajj drives along the streets of the capital Sanaa everyday offering free medical consultations for the poor amid the spread of coronavirus in the war-torn country.
The 28-year-old doctor practices his volunteer activity when he is at home or on his way to and back from workplace.
Many residents said they had seen al-Hajj parking his car on the roadsides, wearing a face mask and gloves as he walked modestly towards the patients, listening to them and writing prescriptions.
“I have put a sticker on my car to let people notice that I offer free medical consultations at the street,” al-Hajj told Xinhua.
The sticker on the rear window of his car reads, “Stop me if you need a medical consultation.”
The image of the sticker has gone viral on social media in Yemen with lots of views. The doctor’s initiative was widely regarded as “generous” at the time of the coronavirus spread.
Yemen has been suffering from the worst humanitarian crisis in the world since a civil war erupted more than five years ago, according to the United Nations.
The war started in late 2014, when the Iran-backed Houthi group seized control of much of the country’s north and forced the Saudi-backed government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi out of the capital Sanaa. The Saudi-led military coalition intervened in the Yemeni conflict in March 2015 to support Hadi’s government.
Grinding into its sixth year, the Yemeni civil war has ravaged more than half of the country’s health facilities, cut off wages, reduced imports, caused serious shortages of medicine supplies and pushed more than 20 million people to the brink of famine.
Plagued by cholera, malnutrition, dengue fever, diphtheria and also the coronavirus pandemic, Yemen lacks the ability to cope with these deadly epidemics as its long-running war has almost destroyed the infrastructure.
Al-Hajj told Xinhua that his initiative came after receiving many text messages on his mobile phone and on social media platforms on a daily basis from patients who cannot afford to go to the hospital.
He said the patients texted about their symptoms of diseases and he replied them with free prescriptions, but for critical cases he would advise them to go to the local health authorities to receive treatment.
Al-Hajj said that he then decided to also reach the poor at the streets and in the neighborhoods who don’t have phones or internet access.
“Through the phone or social networks, there are many people seeking for medical consultations during the current situation and they do not want to go to the hospitals for fears that they maybe get infected with the coronavirus,” he said.
The panic from the coronavirus is spreading as wildfire in the country.
Last month, local health authorities controlled by the Houthi group in the capital Sanaa announced the spread of COVID-19 in several provinces in northern Yemen, including the capital. However, they gave no specific number of the confirmed cases.
In the meantime, the internationally-recognized government called on donors and relevant international humanitarian organizations to help Yemen in its fight against the pandemic.
The government has announced a record of 728 COVID-19 cases with 164 deaths so far in the southern provinces under its control.
Al-Hajj said the number of people who stop him on the roads for free medical consultations is increasing by the day.
“There were many requests for medical consultations and the difficulty I face is the increasing number of people who are seeking life-saving medical advices,” al-Hajj added.
Haroon al-Hattami, one of Sanaa residents, said he had stopped al-Hajj on a road and asked him for medical advice.
He expressed his gratitude and showed his appreciation to al-Hajj for his generous initiative.
“During the current conditions, many people are unable to go to hospitals, especially the poor who are more vulnerable to the pandemic, so this initiative will benefit them very much,” al-Hattami said.