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UNFPA: 30,000 Women in Yemen Could Die from Lack of Reproductive Health Care
A premature newborn lies inside an incubator in the neonatal intensive care unit at al-Thawra hospital in the Yemeni capital Sanaa on June 30. (Mohammed Huwais/AFP via Getty Images)

UNFPA: 30,000 Women in Yemen Could Die from Lack of Reproductive Health Care

Closed due to war and pandemic, some facilities are reopening – although budget shortfalls could now affect thousands

The major provider and supporter of reproductive healthcare in Yemen says 30,000 women and girls could die if further financial resources are not forthcoming.

The United Nations Population Fund (known as UNFPA for its previous name, the United Nations Fund for Population Activities) provides or supports reproductive health care around the world.

The UNFPA is now the sole source of essential reproductive medicines in Yemen. In 2019, it supported 235 health facilities, including 61 comprehensive emergency obstetric and newborn care facilities, and 3,800 reproductive-health workers.

“Currently this number is more than twice lower because of severe fund cuts,” Garik Hayrapetyan, UNFPA deputy representative for Yemen, told The Media Line.

The organization is financed by governments around the world, with additional groups providing donations.

“Women need to have access to quality health services in general…. [W]e have to make sure there are enough centers providing reproductive health care that are distributed across the country,” Hayrapetyan said.

“We need more funding and to extend services geographically,” he added.

We need more funding and to extend services geographically

“We need to build up the capacity of service providers as well as the provision of medicine and medical equipment, including reproductive health kits. We also need to address gender-based violence that has increased during [the era of the coronavirus],” he stated.

There are 12 different types of reproductive health kits for different medical situations, such as clean births and rapes.

As of October 5, UNFPA Yemen had received only 62% of its $100 million 2020 budget. This does not include an additional $20 million needed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Approximately half of all Yemen’s health-care facilities are closed due to an ongoing civil war.

Even before the war, the nation had an inadequate health-care system, with a doctor-to-patient ratio of 1:3,600. This is well below the World Health Organization standard of one doctor for every 1,000 patients, according to the UNFPA.

With the conflict, many doctors fled the country.

Women have borne much of the brunt of the health-care shortage due to discrimination and additional needs related to pregnancy, Suad Abu-Dayyeh, an Amman-based Middle East/North Africa consultant for Equality Now, an organization that advances the rights for women and girls, argues.

“Access to medical services affects women more than men due to mobility restrictions [related to the guardianship system] and has only been worsened by the political situation,” she told The Media Line.

“If a woman is giving birth, she might die en route due to the conflict or be forced to deliver at home in unsanitary conditions,” Abu-Dayyeh added. “Access to hospitals when they want to deliver children may be impossible in some areas, and they face many problems trying to seek [medical attention] for reproductive health.”

If a woman is giving birth, she might die en route due to the conflict or be forced to deliver at home in unsanitary conditions

Reproductive health care is much in demand in an impoverished country where as many as 6 million are eligible to receive such services. According to UNFPA, the median age of a woman’s first birth in Yemen is 20.8. Women on average have four children, although the numbers differ based on area of residence, with those in rural areas having less.

Last year, more than 2 million benefited from UNFPA-funded care. As of January, only 500,000 have received services.

The coronavirus pandemic has limited access even more, with centers providing vital reproductive health care having closed down. Although some are beginning to resume operations, others could remain closed – and not due to the pandemic.

“There are terrible consequence of fund-cutting to UNFPA in 2020…. Thirty-thousand women could die [and] 320,000 pregnant women will be cut off from lifesaving reproductive health services,” Hayrapetyan said. “This is a huge tragedy.”

Thirty-thousand women could die and 320,000 pregnant women will be cut off from lifesaving reproductive health services. This is a huge tragedy

This is especially true in a country where poverty has contributed to preventable deaths, specifically from lack of sanitation or undernourishment.

“Maternal malnutrition increases the risk of poor pregnancy outcomes, including obstructed labor, premature or low-birth-weight babies and postpartum hemorrhage. Severe anemia during pregnancy is linked to increased mortality at labor,” Hayrapetyan said.

“Lack of water and sanitary commodities during labor can result in infection or sepsis, resulting in higher rates of maternal mortality. Neonatal health is also negatively affected due to improper hygiene and infection prevention and control practices,” he added.

Yemen has among the worst maternal mortality rates in the region, with 385 in 100,000 women dying during live births, according to a 2015 United Nations estimate, which, according to Hayrapetyan, is the most accurate recent count. He says the figure is likely to be higher today.

According to UNFPA’s 2019 estimate, one woman and six newborns in Yemen die every two hours from complications during pregnancy or childbirth.

Hayrapetyan says the main factor in infant deaths is viral and epidemic diseases like Dengue fever, cholera and diarrhea. Malnutrition is also a leading cause.

Abu-Dayyeh says it is time to wake up.

“The international community has forgotten Yemen,” she stated. “It needs to start paying attention.”

The international community has forgotten Yemen. It needs to start paying attention

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