In world’s worst humanitarian crisis, the miracle of a safe birth

JARDAN, Yemen – Over a million pregnant women and new mothers require urgent aid in Yemen, the site of the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. Mohsina was one of these women when she went into labour at the end of a complicated and painful pregnancy. Luckily, her story had a happy – and surprise – ending.

Mohsina, 36, was already the mother of six children. She was expecting her seventh child in October, just after the family relocated to Shabwah Governorate.

“During this pregnancy, I felt very heavy and had a lot of pain,” Mohsina remembered.

Despite the alarming symptoms, she did not see a doctor. Under four years of grinding conflict, Yemen’s economy has collapsed. Over 80 per cent of Yemenis are living below the poverty line.

“We could not afford to go to a health facility,” said Mohsina.

“If I had to pay to take her to a hospital, it would mean having to forgo buying food for my children,” her husband, Hadi, added.

Health system in disarray

The catastrophe in Yemen has taken a staggering human toll. A higher percentage of people face death, hunger and disease than in any other country, according to the United Nations response plan.

Even before the conflict, Yemen faced one of the highest maternal death rates in the Arab region. Today, poverty, hunger and illness – including a deadly cholera outbreak – have greatly increased the risks to women and girls.

Six million women and girls of childbearing age are in need of support. More than 1 million pregnant and breastfeeding women are malnourished. An estimated 114,000 women are likely to develop childbirth complications.

But the health system has been devastated by the crisis. Fewer than half of health facilities across the country are fully functional. And due to staff shortages, lack of supplies and damage, only about a third of functioning health facilities are providing reproductive health care.

A harrowing delivery

As Mohsina neared her due date, she feared something was not right. “I was really worried about my baby,” she said.

But then they had a lucky break.

Hadi heard from a friend about Jardan Hospital, where UNFPA supports free maternal health services.

“I immediately took my wife there,” he said.

When Mohsina went into labour, the midwife, Amal, discovered that she was not having one baby – she was having two: a boy and a girl.

“I had twins,” Mohsina said afterward. “This was a big surprise for me.”

The delivery was harrowing. The girl was born healthy, but the boy experienced serious complications.

“My baby boy was critically ill so they rushed him to the emergency department,” Mohsina recalled.

Amal and the delivery team were able to stabilize the baby. He has since made a full recovery.

“I cannot imagine how I would have given birth to twins and I don’t know whether they would have survived if I did not deliver in this hospital with the care of our midwife Amal,” Mohsina said.

Expanding operations

But the needs in Yemen are only growing.

In 2018, with funding from Canada, the European Union, Kuwait, the Netherlands, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and the Yemen Humanitarian Pooled Funds, UNFPA was able to greatly expand its humanitarian operations.

Between 2017 and 2018, the number of UNFPA-supported health centres increased from 133 to 235. Last year, more than 335,000 people were reached with reproductive health services.

This year, UNFPA plans to significantly scale up operations, targeting 5.5 million people with reproductive health and protection services. The organization is appealing for $110 million to fund this critical assistance.

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