Yemen Overview

The Republic of Yemen is country in the Middle East, located on the southwestern tip of the Arabian Peninsula. Yemen’s 555,000 sq. km. are bordered by Saudi Arabia to the north, the Red Sea to the West, and Oman to the east. In addition to the major part of the country that is on the mainland, Yemen’s territories also include over 200 islands that are all off of the coast of mainland Yemen.

Yemen’s official language is Arabic, although there are many Yemenis who understand basic English. In some rural areas, visitors will also find several ancient south-Arabic Semitic languages spoken. Religion is very important in the lives of Yemenis. The vast majority of Yemenis are Muslim. Sunni Muslims make up 52 percent, and Shi’a Muslims make up 46 percent of the population. The remaining 2 percent are made up of other religious minorities, including Hinduism, Christianity, Judaism, and atheism.

Although Yemen’s health care system has improved in recent years, it is lacking and does not meet the needs of its citizens. Yemen’s life expectancy of 63.27 years is still significantly lower than international averages. Other health indicators are still low in comparison. Health services are rare in rural areas. Only 25 percent of people living in rural parts of Yemen have access to health services, compared to 80 percent in urban areas. Services such as ambulances, blood banks, vaccinations, and many more are virtually non-existent in the Yemen healthcare system.

One of the reasons that Yemen’s health care system is severely underdeveloped is the lack of resources. Yemen has one of the weakest and least developed economies in the Middle East, with an unemployment rate of 36 percent. Yemen has very small oil reserves, and its economy heavily depends on oil, but since Yemen’s oil reserves are expected to be depleted by 2017, which can potentially cause the economy to collapse.

Corruption is another contributing factor. The government has taken out measures to eliminate corruption, but has only seen limited success. The prolific spread of corruption has deterred local, regional and international investments. The country only sees foreign investments made in the hydrocarbon industry.

Yemen also has one of the highest birth rates in the world. In July 2005, the population of Yemen was around 28 million. It is estimated that this figure will grow to around 60 million by 2050. The average Yemeni woman has five children, which is a rate that is twice as high as Saudi Arabia, and three times as high as other Gulf states.

The Ministry of Public Health and Population is the government body that is responsibly for overseeing the health sector. The public health care system is focused on a primary health care approach, although the overall health care network is based on a three tier system. Health units provide the majority of curative and preventive care. These are supported by primary health care centers that usually have at least one physician in addition to other medical technicians and staff. At the secondary level are the district and governorate facilities that offer more sophisticated services. The tertiary level is made up of the largest and most advanced hospitals in the country. Typically, these are located only in urban areas, and also serve as teaching hospitals.

The public health system in Yemen suffers from many problems in both structure and organization. Low morale, quality of care, shortage of medicines, lack of a referral system and funding all contribute to the current state of the Yemeni public health system. Yemen has a very high out-of-pocket expenditure for health care. Around 57.6 percent of patients who are seeking medical care will have to make some sort of payment for services. Most Yemenis who can afford to will seek treatment abroad; treatment costs overseas make up around 30 percent of out-of-pocket expenditure.

The private sector has been rapidly growing since 1990, driven by the deterioration of the public health system. Currently, the private health sector provides about 70 percent of health care in the country. Private healthcare in Yemen is much cheaper than many western countries. Although the quality of care of private facilities is better than public ones, the level of care is still below that of North America and Western Europe. Waiting lines are also much shorter. Most wealthy Yemenis and expatriates will choose to use private healthcare or go abroad for treatment.

Travelers and expatriates planning a trip to Yemen are strongly advised to take out an international medical insurance. Although public health facilities are very affordable for expatriates and travelers, the quality is also very low. Private healthcare services are of an acceptable standard for basic medical services. However, for more complicated medical conditions, you will want to be repatriated or transferred to another country. Costs for emergency medical transportation can be as high as $100,000 USD depending on your location and medical condition.

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