A passion to save children suffering from malnutrition
“Regardless of what I do, I feel I can make a difference and contribute to saving more lives”
Aden, Yemen, 26 June 2019 – After driving for several hours, a UNICEF mobile team finally arrived at its destination. Dr. Wail Al-Hajj keeps smiling. He will finally be able to meet the health workers operating in this remote Therapeutic Feeding Centre, far from Al Hudaydah city, where many children suffering from malnutrition are being treated.
“Since I was a little boy, I always felt passionate about helping those in need,” Dr. Wail, UNICEF Nutrition Officer in Aden, says. Today, while assessing the situation at the centre, he will make sure to sit and spend some time with the little patients and their families, to better understand what caused their health deterioration. “A part of my job is also to reassure the parents that, with the treatment provided, their children will survive.”
Dr. Wail joined UNICEF in September 2018, but he has many years of prior experience as a humanitarian worker. “I have been working in this field for over seven years, serving in conflict-affected areas all over Yemen and responding to natural disasters. I witnessed horrific events and felt hopeless many times,” Dr. Wail says.
Despite the obstacles and the frustration, Dr. Wail never gave up. “I always keep one thing in mind, that regardless of what we, humanitarian workers, do, something small or bigger, we make a difference. Together, we can save more lives. This is what I repeat to myself every day, despite what we are facing in Yemen,” he concludes. Now helping the most vulnerable children across Yemen to access quality health and nutrition services, Dr. Wail travels to remote areas every week to understand better the needs of the families and the impact of the conflict on children’s health.
Dr. Wail’s motivation and commitment are bearing fruits. “My son, Mohammed, is five years old. He is very sick and has been diagnosed with severe acute malnutrition. At the centre, they gave us medicines and supplements and we will come back regularly to make sure he is fine. My husband and I are very poor but the treatment and all the visits are for free. We are so grateful for the doctor’s help. It gives us hope for our children,” Zobidah Rajeh, a young displaced mother said during Dr. Wail’ last visit to the outpatient therapeutic programme clinic in Taizz.
In Yemen, nearly 2 million children are currently suffering from acute malnutrition, including 360,000 under five years of age who are severely acutely malnourished and require immediate treatment to survive. In 2018, UNICEF and its partners treated over 347,000 children suffering from severe acute malnutrition. Over 83 per cent of the health facilities are functioning as Outpatient Therapeutic Programmes (OTPs) in addition to 275 new OTPs across Yemen.
Dr. Wail is proud to be part of these efforts to save more children’s lives. “UNICEF delivers a massive nutrition response. We provide technical support, capacity building for health workers, nutrition supplies and we deploy mobile teams to ensure that children and their families living in remote areas have access to nutrition services. UNICEF is also leading the nutrition sub-cluster for the entire humanitarian response, which is an essential role to respond to essential nutrition needs and coordinate with all parties involved for a more effective response,” Dr. Wail says.
“Every night when I put myself to bed, after being sure that my children are sleeping safely, I pray that tomorrow will bring hope to the children of Yemen. I close my eyes and I dream of a country where no children will die of preventable diseases,” Dr. Wail says.