Houthi attacks in Red Sea delay arrival of critical Yad Sarah medical equipment

Medical aid volunteer group says 64 containers with medical supplies due this month are delayed, and it’s grappling with shortages

Sharon Wrobel is a tech reporter for The Times of Israel.

Yad Sarah, one of Israel’s largest medical aid volunteer groups, delivers crutches to soldiers. (Courtesy)
Yad Sarah, one of Israel’s largest medical aid volunteer groups, delivers crutches to soldiers. (Courtesy)

Yad Sarah, one of Israel’s largest non-profit charitable groups, warned on Sunday that the disruption of shipping in the Red Sea, caused by assaults by Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi militants, is causing delays in the delivery of critical medical equipment and could lead to severe shortages, as Israel is almost four months into war with the Hamas terror group.

“The attacks by Houthi rebels in the Red Sea pose a life-endangering delay of critically needed supplies for the unprecedented number of casualties of war in Israel,” Yad Sarah director-general Moshe Cohen told The Times of Israel.

In the aftermath of the October 7 Hamas-led onslaught on southern communities near Gaza, Yemen’s Houthis, an Iranian proxy, have launched a flurry of drone and missile attacks on commercial vessels with Israeli ownership or bound for one of the country’s ports. The ongoing threat prompted the world’s major shipping companies to temporarily suspend sending their vessels through the Red Sea and the Suez Canal.

Instead, container ships bound for Israel and linking to Europe from the Far East are diverting to a longer route around Africa and the Cape of Good Hope, increasing the shipping time of goods by a couple of weeks and raising the costs per ship. The attacks on ships in and around the Red Sea have in the past weeks slowed trade between Asia and Europe.

Cohen said that the volunteer group imports much of its medical equipment from abroad and a “large amount of that equipment arrives in Israel from the Far East, but due to Houthis aggression in the Red Sea, 64 containers full of critical medical supplies meant to arrive this month will need to be rerouted– a delay of about three-to-five months at best estimate, with significantly increased costs.”

Since the outbreak of the Hamas war, Yad Sarah, one of the country’s largest medical aid volunteer organizations, has already supplied an entire year’s worth of “critical medical and rehabilitation equipment,” to soldiers and civilians, Cohen said.

Yad Sarah director-general Moshe Cohen. (Courtesy)

That is because thousands of soldiers and members of security forces have been wounded since Hamas terrorists stormed into southern Israel on October 7, killing some 1,200 people and taking over 240 people hostage — mostly civilians — amid horrific acts of brutality.

In addition, the evacuation of an estimated 200,000 civilians from their homes in the south and the north of the country has left thousands of civilians, in particular elderly and disabled evacuees without medical equipment such as home hospital beds, shower chairs, lifts, or oxygen concentrators, which Yad Sarah lends for free.

“The unprecedented demand has resulted in nationwide shortages, necessitating our urgent efforts to replenish tens of thousands of pieces of vital medical items despite diminished wartime shipping, supply chain obstacles, and heightened costs exacerbated by regional hostilities,” Cohen said.

Cohen added that with growing concern over the escalation on the country’s northern border, Yad Sarah started to prepare to meet growing demand and bought additional medical equipment to bolster hospital supplies and the group’s branches in the north, which is now expected to arrive with a delay of weeks if not months. Yad Sarah has a network of more than 7,000 volunteers spread over 120 branches throughout Israel.

Since the start of the war, mainly during the first month, Yad Sarah lent 46,150 pieces of medical equipment, and delivered and installed home hospitalization equipment for 1,082 families to allow more soldiers and civilians who suffered injuries to be released from the hospital to recover at home.

Given the uncertainty over the duration and extent of the war, Cohen said that the organization has been seeking to find alternative solutions to be able to account for shortages in medical equipment, in particular oxygen concentrators and continuous passive Motion (CPM) therapy devices used in physiotherapy, and has also expanded its operations to support the prolonged rehabilitation of over 2,500 soldiers.

Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen publish a video showing how the group hijacked an Israeli-linked shipping vessel in the Red Sea on November 20, 2023. (Screen capture/X)

“We have reached out to individuals who have loaned equipment and asked for it to be returned immediately if no longer needed,” Cohen said. “We are trying to ship some supplies from Europe where possible, and fly in supplies, but the costs, in particular for equipment arriving by plane is up to four times the maritime shipping cost from the Far East depending on the weight and volume of the item.”

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