Yemen: Pregnant women dying of malnutrition, UNFPA chief warns of crisis

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War-struck Yemen is facing a humanitarian crisis, currently intensified by the COVID-19 pandemic, and it is affecting the country’s disadvantaged populations most.

In order to understand the severity of the situation, it is enough to examine the country’s demographics. Out of its total population of about 30 million, 20 million are in need of humanitarian assistance, suffering from extreme starvation and famine.

More than half of the 20 million in need of humanitarian assistance in Yemen are women and girls, a United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) statement noted.

Identifying the concerning issue, Executive Director of UNFPA, Dr. Natalia Kanem, recently concluded a three-day visit to Yemen and called for peace in a country that has known nothing but conflict for six years, since Houthi rebels took over the capital city of Sanaa in 2015.

“The situation is catastrophic,” Kanem said after her visit, stressing the unimaginable conditions faced by pregnant women and adolescent girls in Yemen.

“I am deeply concerned about the safety and reproductive health of women and girls in Yemen,” Kanem said. “More than one million pregnant women are at risk of acute malnutrition; this number could double if we do not take urgent action.”

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According to data released by UNFPA, a woman in Yemen dies every two hours from complications of pregnancy. And women who manage to reach a hospital are considered lucky.

Traveling while suffering from severe malnutrition makes travel extremely dangerous, especially when carrying an unborn child. Coupled with the close to non-existent road infrastructure in many parts of the country and with the fact that only 20 percent of functional health facilities provide maternal and child health services – it’s hard to ignore the grim reality that characterizes the lives of so many on a daily basis.

“I’ve been in many maternity wards, and they are usually a place of joy,” Kanem said.  “But in Yemen, I witnessed the devastation of malnutrition and hunger, with newborn babies on feeding tubes and mothers weakened by fear and exhaustion,” the UNFPA Chief added.

“It is heartbreaking to see fellow members of the human family in such dire conditions … the women and girls of Yemen deserve peace.”

During her visit, Kanem visited a number of  UNFPA facilities in Aden, which are among the very few safe spaces for women and girls still active in the country, according to Kanem.

In Sanaa, she visited a specialized psychological care center supported by UNFPA, where women and families receive mental health care and treatment. According to a study from 2017, 1 in 5 people suffer from mental health disorders in Yemen.

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“The world must act now to save the lives of innocent civilians,” Kanem said, urging the world’s powers to interfere immediately before this unparalleled humanitarian crisis worsens even more.

UNFPA is the United Nations sexual and reproductive health agency, according to a statement by the agency. UNFPA’s mission is to deliver a world where every pregnancy is wanted, every childbirth is safe and every young person’s potential is fulfilled. UNFPA calls for the realization of reproductive rights for all and supports access to a wide range of sexual and reproductive health services, including voluntary family planning, quality maternal health care and comprehensive sexuality education.


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