Motherhood on the Brink in Yemen


War, a humanitarian crisis, a looming famine, a health system close to collapse and the deepening impact of the COVID-19 pandemic have led to a “catastrophic situation” in which a woman dies in childbirth every two hours in Yemen, according to the UN Population Fund (UNFPA).

“It was the morning of a normal working day before fighting escalated close to the hospital. I heard a mother screaming at the gate”, midwife Shrook Khalid Saeed told UNFPA, at the Al Shaab Hospital in the district of Crater, in Yemen.

By the time she arrived at the entrance to the hospital, hostilities in the area had flared and a gunfight had broken out. “Bullets were coming from all the corners of the street”, she recounted. “When I arrived at the gate, I found the pregnant woman lying down and crying for help. I pulled her and rushed her inside a car. That is where all of it happened. In a few minutes, she had delivered a healthy baby boy.”

Childbirth can be harrowing in even the best of times but the cascade of humanitarian crises in Yemen have made the journey to motherhood more dangerous than ever. The country’s long-running conflict has depleted the health system. Currently only half of all health facilities are functioning.

The pandemic has only aggravated the situation, with roughly 15 per cent of the health system shifted to deal with COVID-19 cases. Only 20 per cent of functioning health facilities are providing maternal and child health services.

Today, a woman in Yemen dies during childbirth every two hours, almost always from preventable causes. And now, the threat of famine looms.

“The situation is catastrophic,” said UNFPA Executive Director Dr. Natalia Kanem, during her recent three-day visit to the country.



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