Displaced and Sick: How Children Cope in Marib, Yemen

Published Date: 
Wednesday, October 28, 2020

“When my little siblings or I get sick, we wait for the mobile clinic to come and give us the help we need. There isn’t another clinic nearby and we can’t afford to buy medicine on our own,’’ said Fatima*, a seventeen-year-old displaced Yemeni girl on whom the responsibility of caring for her siblings falls. They live together in Alhhodeinah displacement site in Marib, a governorate where hundreds of thousands of people are seeking safety.

A recent escalation of fighting in the areas near where Sana’a, Marib and Al Jawf governorates meet has caused the displacement of over 90,000 people to already crowded settlements in Marib city. The displaced are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance and often children are the worst affected. And despite the increasing demand for health care and the presence of COVID-19 in Yemen, health support for displaced people is extremely limited.  

“Displaced people are in constant need of health services due to the harsh environment and poor living conditions,” explained Dr. Abdulmajeed Albayhani, a health worker at the International Organization for Migration (IOM) Al Jufainah health centre.

Al Jufainah is Yemen’s largest displacement site, now home to over 50,000 displaced people, with only two permanent health centres.

A sick child being treated at the IOM health centre in the Al Jufainah Camp, Marib. Photo: O. Headon/IOM 2020

A doctor at the mobile clinic examining children in a displacement site in Marib. Photo: OCHA/2020

To support the vulnerable population in Marib, IOM and the government of Japan collaborated to operate the first static health centre in Al Jufainah camp, which opened in Marib of this year. Under the joint project, IOM also supports Al Rhoda Health Centre and Al Shaheed Mohamed Hael Hospital in Marib City, while operating four mobile health clinics.

Hanan is a 14-year-old girl, originally from Al Hudaydah. She was displaced with her mother, stepfather and six siblings about four years ago. They all live together in a makeshift shelter in Al Jufainah Camp. She has suffered sickle cell anemia, a genetic red blood cell disorder, since she was just 10 months old. The disorder means that she needs regular blood transfusions and monthly treatments in order to simply survive.

“Hanan’s diseases has hindered her studies. She is often out of school because she of her illness. Despite her age, she is still in the fifth grade,” explained Hana’s mother, Eshraq*.

Hanan lost her birth father in a car accident when she was just seven years old. Now, her stepfather, who works as a motorbike driver, provides for her along with his other six children. Because of Hanan’s chronic disease, the cost of medicine and health care often exceeds the family’s financial abilities.

Before settling in Al Jufainah camp, Hanan’s family rented a house in the city but it lacked proper ventilation, access to adequate water, electrical supply and a functioning sanitation system. All of this, in addition the toll taken on her body by the journey from Al Hudaydah to Marib, exacerbated her already serious health condition.

“When Hanan came to the emergency room of Al Shaheed Mohamed Hael Hospital, she was weak and clearly exhausted and was suffering from headaches, dizziness and fainting attacks,” recalled Mohammed Algamili, a medical assistant at the IOM-supported Al Shaheed Mohamed Hael Hospital.

The health team examined Hanan, carrying out a full evaluation, and then reviewed her medical history for a better assessment of her condition. All results indicated that Hanan was suffering from severe anemia and needed an immediate blood transfusion.

But Hanan’s blood type is rare, O negative. Despite this, the health team was able to provide her with the transfusion. After close medical observation, Hanan’s vitals went up, and by night, she was allowed to go home, with follow up at the hospital for the next few days.

“I really appreciate the help my daughter received at the hospital. We hope that IOM continues its health support to the people in need,” said Hanan’s mother, Eshraq, upon her daughter’s discharge from the hospital.

A little girl receiving a health consultation from a doctor at the mobile clinic in Marib. Photo: OCHA/2020

Like the IOM-supported health centre and hospitals, IOM’s mobile clinics are the only health support for some distant areas in Marib, where displaced people have limited-to-no access to health services.

The mobile health teams also provide primary health care services in addition to community level access to malnutrition screening for children under the age of five and referral for treatment where needed as well as antenatal care and advice for pregnant women. Early intervention in both cases aids in reducing avoidable morbidity and mortality.

“The mobile clinic is the only source of medicine in this camp; it eases our suffering considerably,” said Bushra*, a mother of two children, living in Alsowayda camp.

From March to September, the IOM-Japan health project has meant that over 50,000 consultations along with primary and secondary health care services have been provided to displaced families in Marib.

But IOM’s health response in Marib has faced multiple difficulties.

The COVID-19 outbreak, flash floods and the recent increase in hostilities have overloaded IOM’s health operations, which encouraged IOM to increase the number of its mobile health clinics. Today, nearly 55 per cent of the displaced community’s only access to health care is through the services provided by IOM.

“People here benefit a lot from these health services. We can see how happy people are when they receive our help,” said Dr. Yusef AlSaba’ei, a health worker with an IOM mobile health clinic.

Apart from operating four mobile clinics, a static clinic and supporting a two hospitals, IOM and Japan are also working with the local Governorate Health Office to combat COVID-19 through setting up and managing an isolation and treatment centre in Marib city. This is in addition to constructing two quarantine centres in displacement sites to control the spread of COVID-19 among vulnerable communities.

*Names changed

Written by Mennatallah Homaid, IOM Yemen Media and Communication Assistant