‘Kids face stepping on landmines daily’ – NHS doctor lays bare warzone horror

British doctor Elma Wong is faced with an endless stream of casualties as she tends, once again, to victims of Yemen’s savage war.

Whole families arrive after being blown up by landmines… and children watch in bewildered despair as parents die in front of them.

Among the victims is eight-year-old Amarah, who clutches Dr Wong’s hand.

The dedicated anaesthetist does her best to soothe the girl, another victim of the world’s forgotten war – a four-year conflict that has killed 140,000 children.

Dr Wong, 37, first helped out in the warzone in 2016. She has returned three times – taking unpaid leave from the NHS’s Worcestershire Royal Hospital.

But she admits when the charity Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) first asked her to go, she had to check on a map exactly where Yemen was.

She said: “My knowledge was very limited as it wasn’t a very well-publicised conflict. It’s probably a good thing I didn’t know too much before. What I found is the worst man-made humanitarian crisis in the world.

“And each time I go back it’s got worse. The health system there is completely broken. Hospitals have been bombed, doctors and nurses have fled for their lives, there are no supplies, no money.”

During her latest four-month stint she worked in a tented hospital set up by MSF in the port city of Mocha, close to the front line.

That’s where she met shepherd’s daughter Amarah, who was badly wounded while playing in a field near her home.

With childlike curiosity, Amarah had picked up an object with numbers on it.

The explosion that followed killed one of her playmates and left her with horrendous injuries.

Evacuated from the field on the back of a donkey, she was then rushed by car to MSF’s tented hospital an hour away.

Medics there had to resuscitate her. Already desperately weak from malnutrition, she required lifesaving surgery after shrapnel tore through her tummy.

The explosion also shattered her left leg and the tissue around it.

Amarah was in and out of theatre over the next month – with Dr Wong never far from her side.

The medic said: “When she woke from an operation she’d grip my hand like a vice and ask me not to leave. Sometimes I’d be really busy and I’d have to let go, but I’d always want to quickly go back and keep her company.

"She was such a sweet little girl. As the days went by she got stronger and it was wonderful to see her smile again. After six weeks she was able to go home with her gran.”

Dr Wong, who lives in Birmingham, said landmine victims arrive at the hospital every day.

She said: “The injustice of it all can be really hard to deal with. I can’t imagine living in a place where you know your children might step on a landmine at any time.

“One time four people from one family were brought in. A dad and uncle were literally gasping their last breaths, and two brothers aged five and seven.

"The youngest had shrapnel in his brain, arm and on his face – once we’d stabilised him he was taken to our trauma hospital in Aden six hours away. The seven-year-old had injuries to his arm.

“He’d watched as his dad and uncle passed away, his younger brother was fighting for life and he didn’t even have his mother with him because she’d gone with his brother. How you begin to deal with such trauma at any age, let alone seven, I just don’t know.”

Yemen’s latest civil war has been raging since 2015 when a Saudi-led coalition intervened on behalf of the government against Houthi rebels.

Evidence of the conflict is all around. In Saada, kids play in the rubble of what was once their school. Nearby, 29 children were killed in an air strike on a bus.


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