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Yemenis turn to herbal remedies as medicine prices soar

Yemenis turn to herbal remedies as medicine prices soar
From Al Jazeera - February 12, 2018

Sanaa, Yemen -Mohammed Saif turned to herbal and faith-based treatments last year despite doctors warning they would not be safe, or even effective.

The 40-year-old used to take anticholinergics to treat irritable bowel syndrome. But in a country ravaged by war, medical treatment had become nearly impossible for him to access.

"I could not afford to see a doctor, and no one could help me cover the costs of my medical expenses," said Saif, the sole breadwinner of his family of five.

"I have been taking herbs for over a year now and it causes no side effects. The only shortcoming is that they do not cure most diseases."

Over the past three years, Yemenis seeking unproven natural remedies has become the norm in many parts of the country, he said, with a growing number looking for a cheaper way to treat their ailments.

But these holistic remedies are far cry from the medical care most Yemenis received before the conflict began.

Ignorance is the reason behind the spread of herbal products. Educated people would not opt for this type of treatment. Only the poor and the illiterate would go to homeopathic centres.

Naser al-Salahi, doctor

More than 70 percent of the population had access to healthcare before 2015. Now, none of the country's major hospitals provide the same level of service as before.

The cost of most medicines has also risen sharply with some drugs experiencing a price hike of more than 300 percent, making it unaffordable for most families to obtain treatment.

"Malnutrition and disease are rampant as basic services collapse," said Meritxell Relano, UNICEF's representative in Yemen.

"Those who survive are likely to carry the physical and psychological scars of this conflict for the rest of their lives."

Customer surge

Yemen's civil war escalated in March 2015 when a Saudi-led coalition launched a military operation against Houthi rebels after they overran much of the country.

Since then, more than 10,000 people have been killed directly by the fighting, while millions have been driven from their homes.

The humanitarian situation has been further compounded by the Arab coalition's decision to impose tighter restrictions on the country's ports.

Aimed at stemming the flow of weapons to the Houthis, a de facto blockade has had a debilitating effect on the civilian population, as more than 18 million Yemenis live in rebel-held areas.

According to the UN, the healthcare system has never been more precarious with only 45 percent of facilities left standing, with limited functionality.

"I am seeing a surge of customers," said Ahmed al-Sarori, the owner of an alternative medicine centre in Sanaa.

"People are flooding in with skin-related diseases. I give them either a herbal ointment, syrup or powder, and the results are [overwhelmingly] positive."

Avoiding unemployment

'Ignorance'

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