Malnutrition ... Yemen's Children in Life-and-Death Struggle

UNICEF with its partners are scaling up its nutrition programmes to tackle and treat malnourished children among the most vulnerable population in the 165 of the country’s 333 districts at high risk of famine

Ali Qasim
Fatima Mohammed, 1.5 years old that suffers from severe Malnutrition while taking her measurements in UNICEF supported treatment centre in Zingibar, Abyan.
UNICEF Yemen/2020/Mahmoud Al-Falsatiny
13 September 2020

In Yemen, children have borne the brunt of the over six years of the current conflict characterized by food insecurity and a crumbling health care system. Malnutrition has emerged as a potent threat to children who already face the combined threat of war, diseases and poverty.

UNICEF estimates that 2 million children in Yemen are acutely malnourished, including  325,000 children under the age of five who suffer from severe acute malnutrition and are fighting to survive in light of the decline in the economic and living conditions, the collapse of state health facilities, and the shortage of medical staff that directly provide healthcare services.

In this poor Arabian country, the lives of families have been marked by tragedies with their children caught between death and permanent disabilities, instead of living a normal life like any children worldwide.

UNICEF estimates that 2 million children in Yemen are acutely malnourished, including  325,000 children under the age of five who suffer from severe acute malnutrition

Shawqi Fahd, one-year-old, is one of these children who was “on the verge of death upon his admission to the UNICEF-supported nutrition clinic", as his mother says. Shawqi has reached the nutrition clinic in a bad shape; he was so weak and have lost his appetite. But in spite of the difficult condition of her son, Shawqi’s mother has seen a glimmer of hope when Shawqi’s health started to improve, and he begin to recover. “I want to thank the health workers in the center who gave full attention to Shawqi’s case and provided him with all the necessary treatment” Shawqi’s mother said with deep gratitude.

Shawqi Fahd, one year old, in the hands of his mother in the Maternal and Childhood Center in Zingibar, Abyan
UNICEF Yemen/2020/Mahmoud Al-Falsatiny
Shawqi Fahd, one year old, in the hands of his mother in the Maternal and Childhood Center in Zingibar, Abyan

Inside one of the UNICEF supported centres in Abyan governorate, one can see many mothers holding their weak and emaciated children on their laps. Dozens of mothers access this centre on a daily basis to treat their children from severe malnutrition. These UNICEF supported clinics are their last resort to save the lives of their beloved children. In fact, the Maternal and Childhood Health Center in Zingibar District provides multiple health and nutrition services to the most needy and vulnerable children and mothers.

The maternal &Childhood centre in Zinjibar is a destination for many mothers whose children suffer from malnutrition.
UNICEF Yemen/2020/Mahmoud Al-Falsatiny
The maternal &Childhood centre in Zinjibar is a destination for many mothers whose children suffer from malnutrition.

"The centre started to provide therapeutic nutrition services to my child from the first visit, and the female staff working there were very supportive, they have also provided me with advices about malnutrition, breastfeeding and how to take care of my son’s health” Shawqi’s mother said. She added that the centre supports the needy children with plumpy nut, medicines and also provide food baskets for their families ".

 Fatima Abdullah Omar, a one-and-a-half-year-old baby girl, was brought to the centre by her mother which was sadly watching her baby's weaken body and sunken eyes.  Fatima's mother had to travel for around one hour, from the village of Fallujah to the capital Zingibar, to get her daughter the required treatment at the nutrition clinic. This is because until recent years, many areas and villages in Abyan governorate had no centres specialized in treating malnourished children. “ I was so scared that I may lose my daughter as she was becoming skinny and weak, but with the vital treatment that she received at the centre here, she has been recovering to recover and I felt an enormous sense of relief that I won’t lose my daughter” Said Fatima’ mother.

A health worker taking measurements for a malnourished child at the UNICEF -supported maternal &Childhood Center in Zinjibar, Abyan governorate.
UNICEF Yemen/2020/Mahmoud Al-Falsatiny
A health worker taking measurements for a malnourished child at the UNICEF -supported maternal &Childhood Center in Zinjibar, Abyan governorate.

With support from the King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center (KSrelief) and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) through IMDAD grant, UNICEF has worked to scale up it’s nutrition programmes to tackle and treat malnourished children.

With support from the King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center (KSrelief) and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) through IMDAD grant, UNICEF has worked to scale up its nutrition programmes to tackle and treat malnourished children among the most vulnerable population in the 165 of the country’s 333 districts at high risk of famine. Through this fund, UNICEF was able to provide and equip these centres with essential health supplies and medicines to enable them to provide basic health and nutrition services to children.

The Maternal & Childhood Center in Zingibar, which receives children suffering from acute malnutrition in Abyan governorate.
UNICEF Yemen/2020/Mahmoud Al-Falsatiny
The Maternal & Childhood Center in Zingibar, which receives children suffering from acute malnutrition in Abyan governorate.

"Children come to the centre suffering from severe acute malnutrition with symptoms that include loss of appetite, dry skin and hair loss. They appear more like just skin and bones” said Rasheeda AbuBakr, a doctor who has been working at the Maternal and Childhood centre in Zingibar for years now. “We examine and screen the children using weight, height, MUAC (Mid-Upper Arm Circumference) screening. Children are in need of large-scale humanitarian assistance consisting of food, medicine and nutritional supplements” added Dr. Rasheeda.

Along with the current support, the centre also provides many other services, including reproductive healthcare services for pregnant and lactating women, family planning, immunization, and advisory for mothers on breastfeeding and proper nutrition for children between 6 months to 5 years old.

“Recently, the centre is witnessing a remarkable improvement in the treatment of malnutrition cases with the support we received from UNICEF. We are providing free treatment to children and counselling and support to mothers on exclusive breastfeeding of infants” said Mona Saeed, who is another dedicated doctor in the nutrition clinic. Dr.Mona affirmed that the main causes of child malnutrition are the inability of poor families to cover the expenses of a good diet for their children, in addition to the mother's lack of adequate nutrition during pregnancy.

Despite all the insecurity and violence, UNICEF and its partners continue to support and scale-up integrated Community Management of Acute Malnutrition. During the first half of 2020, more than 1.5 million children under five were screened for malnutrition, of which 96,344 children with severe acute malnutrition (SAM) were admitted for treatment. In addition, around one million mothers received infant young child feeding (IYCF) counselling to adopt optimal feeding practices.