A Fighting Chance: Supporting the Survival of Yemen’s Youngest
Ma’rib – Every day, Wafa comes to Al Shaheed Mohammed Hail Hospital’s nursery in Ma’rib city to see her two-week-old daughter, Ala’a. The 25-year-old mother is given only a few hours during which she can hold her baby and play with her tiny fingers and toes before she has to go home. Leaving her sick child behind in the hospital breaks Ala’a’s heart a little more each time.
Wafa and Ala’a are two of the millions of mothers and children displaced in Yemen, since the conflict began in 2015.
As with many displaced parents, Wafa is struggling to provide for her children. Without a steady income, even the most basic food has become a luxury. Having another baby was not part of her plans, as she had only given birth to her first child, Ayat, about a year and a half before Ala’a came along. She gave birth to her in their small rented house, aided by her mother, two years after having to leave their home in Al Mahwit governorate.
Wafa fled with her husband to Ma’rib city, searching for a safer life and a better income. Later their extended family joined them, staying in rented accommodation nearby.
“Displacement was hard for me at the beginning as I had to leave my family behind, but things got better after my mother came; now she lives near me. I was more comfortable when she was here for the birth of my second baby,” explained Wafa.
“Now most of my family members are displaced here in Ma’rib,” she added, reflecting on the fact that Ma’rib governorate, and in particular the city, hosts some of the largest numbers of displaced people in Yemen.
After settling down in Ma’rib, Wafa’s family started searching for work. Her husband was lucky enough to open a grocery shop, while the other members of the family worked as casual workers in various fields. Wafa stays at home to care for her children, with her mother’s help.
Six days after giving birth to Ala’a, she noticed that the baby had a cough and difficulty breathing and soon developed a fever. Three days later, she stopped feeding from her mother’s breast and started turning blue.
“I ran to the nearest hospital to my house, but they told me that my baby needed a baby incubator, which was not available there. The doctors told me to go to Al Shaheed Mohammed Hail hospital to find a suitable nursery. I rushed my daughter there, and all I was thinking about was saving my daughter’s life at any cost,” Wafa recalled, about the night were she nearly lost her baby.
Responding to the increasing need for health care due to conflict and mass displacement, the International Organization for Migration (IOM), with support from the people of Japan, has been working to provide emergency health services to vulnerable communities in Ma’rib. Through this partnership, IOM and Japan support Al Shaheed Mohamed Hael Hospital in Ma’rib City with medicine, equipment and other material as needed by the hospital.
In her despair, Wafa arrived in the hospital with her new-born child just in time to save her life.
“When I first brought my daughter here, she was nearly dead, so I am relieved that my daughter is getting proper health care at this nursery. Every day I come to visit her, and my hope of seeing her fully recovered grows bigger and bigger,” she said.
Key to Ala’a’s recovery was the incubator that IOM provided to the hospital along with medical devices necessary for monitoring and sustaining life for infants in need of specialized care.
During Ala’a’s stay in the neonatal intensive care unit, the doctors were able to diagnose her with a chest infection and ensure she received the treatment she needed to recover, like antibiotics and oxygen.
“Ala’a’s condition improves every day, and we expect that she will fully recover and be discharged from the hospital in the coming days,” said Ehsan, a Medical Assistant at Al Shaheed hospital.
“IOM provided us with the equipment we needed for this specific care for sick babies and covered all costs. The parents don’t have to pay for anything except for their children’s personal needs such as diapers and milk,” added Ehsan.
Ehsan is not only a health worker. She is also a displaced person from Hajjah governorate. She and her husband were a newly married couple when they arrived in Ma’rib four years ago. Two years into displacement, Ehsan started working at the hospital, which helps her provide a better life for her own three-year-old son.
Apart from equipping Al Shaheed hospital with medical equipment and medicine, IOM and Japan support 37 health workers, like Ehsan. This income allows health staff to provide for their families and ensure the functioning of primary and secondary care facilities. IOM also provides health workers with training to build their capacity in various areas like infection prevention and control, and management of COVID-19 cases.
IOM’s support to Al Shaheed hospital continues, with plans to expand the neonatal intensive care unit and other services in the hospital so it can receive and help more people. During 2020, over 20,000 people benefited from health care at Al Shaheed Mohammed Hail hospital. While across the country, IOM reached over 3.2 million people with health services in 2020, a majority of whom were displaced persons struggling to live through the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
Written by Elham Al Oqabi and Mennatallah Homaid from the IOM Yemen Communications Team