ONE woman and six newborn babies are dying from complications in pregnancy or childbirth every two hours in Yemen, a UNICEF report has revealed, as the country’s health-care system faces collapse in the ongoing war.
Women are unable or too scared to go in search of medical help, and babies and toddlers are dying from easily treatable diseases because there are no medicines to treat them, charities working in the region say.
The UNICEF report Childbirth and Parenting in a War Zone shows a sharp rise in maternal and newborn mortality since the conflict began in 2013, and Yemen now has some of the worst death rates in the world for mothers and babies.
Far from being a matter for celebration, new birth was now all too often turned into a “tragedy” for families, the UNICEF Executive Director, Henrietta Fore, said.
Claire Nicholls, of Save the Children’s humanitarian team, recently spent three months in Yemen. She said that UNICEF’s statistics painted a picture that was familiar to the charity’s staff in the country.
“Every day, the Save the Children team in Yemen are meeting pregnant woman who are struggling to survive. Pregnant woman are terrified of going into labour in case there isn’t a long enough break in the violence to allow them to get to hospital safely — and, if they do get there, they are scared that there might not be doctors available and medicines for them.
“Mothers and newborns are always some of the most vulnerable, but the whole system is on the brink of collapse,” she continued. “Half of all health facilities in Yemen aren’t working; the country has the largest food crisis in the world; and it is experiencing a massive cholera outbreak. Maternal health-care just falls through the cracks. The remaining health facilities are lacking even the most basic medication, and even electricity.”
She said that she had met medics who had asked her how they could treat broken limbs when all they had available was sticking plasters.
Children are dying from illnesses that were easily treatable almost anywhere else in the world, she said. “I met a Yemeni mother who had lost her two-year-old son because of tonsillitis. No child should die of this today. Mothers and newborns are during of very simple complications that can be easily treated elsewhere.
“Save the Children has also seen a doubling of the number of pregnant and breastfeeding women suffering severe malnutrition, which means a high risk of miscarriage and death during childbirth.”
The report found that women were being forced to give birth at home in often precarious conditions, and that only three in ten births now take place in a medical facility.
Ms Nicholls said that, although the humanitarian response in Yemen was underfunded, and more money was urgently needed to help a population of whom ten million people are only a step away from famine, the conflict had to end for the situation to improve. “Humanitarian aid is a sticking plaster; to stop women and babies needlessly dying, the war must end. I’ve worked in many humanitarian crises in my career, but I’ve never seen a situation like I saw in Yemen.”
Yemen is now in its fifth year of a conflict between Houthi rebels and Saudi-led coalition forces. The country is also in the grip of a cholera outbreak.