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Saba: A chance for survival in Yemen

Saba and her mother Ashwaq at Al-Zaidiah health centre in Hudaydah, where Saba got treated for malnutrition.

By Marie Bracquemont, Reports Officer, UNICEF Yemen

Hudaydah, Yemen, 22 April 2019 – Nearly two years ago, Saba opened her eyes for the first time. Like any other parents, hers were hoping to see their little girl growing up in a loving and peaceful world, so she could one day become what she wanted to be. But Saba was born in Yemen, where every day, children are bearing the brunt of the conflict which broke out over four years ago.

Across the country, 2 million children are suffering from malnutrition, including nearly 360,000 severely malnourished children who, like Saba, could die any minute if not urgently treated. The poor health infrastructure and the lack of health workers exacerbate this dire situation, putting children’s lives at risk.

Saba’s parents are from the port city of Hudaydah, where, despite the ceasefire in place, violence continues to rage. “Because of the war, my husband couldn’t find work and we didn’t receive assistance from local organizations. This severely affected my daughter’s health,” Ashwaq Al-Raei, Saba’s mother remembers.

At 16 months, Saba weighed only 5 kilos when children of her age are supposed to weight 8.

When Saba’s conditions deteriorated, her mother did not know what to do. “We don’t have money to go to the clinic. I went to see a female doctor in my village and asked her to rescue my daughter. She drove us to the nearest health facility, so they can examine Saba. She saved us”, said Ashwaq.

Since her case was serious, the health worker referred Saba to the Therapeutic Feeding Centre (TFC) of Al-Zaidiah, which is supported by UNICEF and the Taybah Foundation, a local health organisation, where children suffering from malnutrition with complications can receive intensive treatment.

Saba’s measurements show she was suffering from severe acute malnutrition. He height was 70cm and her Mid-Upper Arm Circumference (MUAC) test was 10.5 or red, which indicates severe acute malnutrition and that the child should be immediately referred for treatment.

Dr. Waleed Ibrahim examined Saba when she first arrived at the centre. She had a strong fever with severe diarrhea and was developing pneumonia. At 16 months, “she weighed only 5.7 kilos when children of her age are supposed to weight 8 kilos", he explains. Saba was then diagnosed with severe acute malnutrition and admitted at the centre for treatment.

At UNICEF-supported Therapeutic Feeding Centre of Al-Zaidiah, Dr. Waleed Ibrahim treats children suffering from severe acute malnutrition with complications.

After three days of antibiotics and nutritional treatment, her condition improved significantly. Ashwaq was so relieved to see her daughter getting better but she was worried about the health of her other six young children. “I even don’t know if they are still alive, we didn’t have any food at home when I left but I need to stay with Saba for now,” she says. “We used to eat bread and drink tea but now we even don’t have bread left,” Ashwaq adds.

A nurse is preparing the formula given to children treated for severe acute malnutrition.

Dr. Waleed hopes Saba will recover swiftly. “I referred Saba to an outpatient clinic, so a health worker can continue to monitor her weight and give her the appropriate nutrition. If her case doesn’t improve, she will be sent back to us immediately,” he says.

Saba’s case is unfortunately common. Dr. Waleed receives many young children suffering from severe acute malnutrition at the centre. “Like Saba’s parents, many families are struggling to secure daily meals because of the current economic situation and the lack of knowledge on the right nutrition practices to adopt. It is not rare to see the same mother coming back after a while with another child who also suffers from malnutrition.”

Saba lives with her parents, three brothers and six sisters. They are all at risk of malnutrition since the family does not have a stable source of income to secure daily meals.

"That’s why UNICEF added health educators to the medical teams to educate mothers about the quality of food, hygiene and family planning practices,” Dr. Waleed stresses. “It is important for the mothers to be aware of such methods to limit multiple births, which are an important factor of malnutrition re-occurrence in vulnerable families and to hopefully see children growing healthy.”

For Ashwaq, these sessions were extremely useful. “They told us what kind of food to cook, like potatoes and zucchinis with yogurt for our children not to get sick. I will make sure to feed my children properly when I am back home,” Ashwaq says with Saba in her arms, hoping her daughter will still have a chance for a better life.

At the centre, mothers are provided with advice on a daily basis to in-patient mothers at stabilizing and nutrition centre.

UNICEF is able to scale up its lifesaving nutrition interventions for affected communities, due to the support of partners, like the European Commission Directorate-General for European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO), which is funding the activities of the Al-Zaidiah health centre in Hudaydah. Thanks to this partnership, more than 173,000 children under the age of five suffering with severe acute malnutrition were treated in 1,901 fixed health facilities and through 68 mobile teams, from July 2017 to July 2018.

This intervention was also complemented with funds from other partners such as the World Bank, the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID), the Global Alliance for Vaccines Initiative (GAVI), the German development bank KfW, the Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA), the U.S.-funded Food For Peace initiative and the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, which all contributed to the overall health and nutrition response in the targeted governorates.



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