The humanitarian crisis in Yemen is the worst in the world, with 75% of the population requiring some form of assistance and protection. The country is additionally grappling with a widespread cholera outbreak and the looming threat of famine.
Yemen has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the region. In 2015, approximately 385 women out of every 100,000 died of maternal causes. Today, the rate is likely to be much higher, as the conflict has cut off access to health services, medicines, and food. The current violence in Hodeidah exacerbates this and threatens the lives of an estimated 90,000 pregnant women and girls. Some 14,000 of them have an increased chance of experiencing pregnancy-related complications and are in need of emergency care. However, access to health services is severely limited by the ongoing crisis.
Approximately two million pregnant and lactating women are said to be at risk of death due to the threat of famine. Some 1.1 million are already acutely malnourished, which increases the chances of miscarriage and stillbirth. Cases of severe birth defects and dangerously low birth weights are being reported among newborns. At the reproductive health department located in Sanaa’s health ministry, director general Zainab al-Badawi says maternal and infant mortality rates have risen since the war began in 2015, after an earlier decline in 2013.
The existing naval and air blockades have restricted the flow of life-saving medicines, vitamins, and food supplies, placing tens of thousands of already vulnerable people at risk. These blockades prevent humanitarian agencies, such as the World Health Organization (WHO), from providing them with the assistance they urgently need. The escalation of violence, which is in close proximity to hospitals, is affecting the movement and safety of medical staff, patients and ambulances, as well as the functionality of health facilities, leaving hundreds without access to treatment.
For example, on 2 August 2018, the only major referral hospital in the city of Hodeidah, Al Thawra hospital, was the site of brutal air raids. Since the hospitals in Hodeidah are closest to the frontlines, not only are the lives of healthcare workers and patients jeopardized, but fear and insecurity are keeping patients from seeking urgently needed care. Out of fear for their lives, pregnant women are increasingly giving birth at home, where they are at an increased risk of developing obstetric problems.
Due to the country’s failing healthcare system, owing to the protracted war, pregnant women do not have proper medical support or access to medical care. Specialized doctors have fled Yemen’s medical centers after not receiving their salaries for more than two years, forcing the ill-equipped hospitals to rely on fresh graduates – doctors who have not obtained their licenses. “Some students have not graduated from an authorized medical university”, said Dr. Youssef Al-Hadhri, a spokesperson for the public health and population ministry within the Salvation Government in Sanaa.
Defenders for Medical Impartiality (DMI) recognizes that there must be a concerted effort to ensure that the two million pregnant women at risk who are in desperate need of food and medical supplies will receive them promptly. DMI calls on the Saudi-led coalition to lift the naval and air blockades on the port of Hodeidah to allow for the uninterrupted distribution of humanitarian assistance to the women at risk and their unborn children. Moreover, DMI calls for the implementation of a ceasefire and reconciliation and peace building process.