Yemen Health System Collapses Leaving 8 Million Children Without Access to Healthcare

FAIRFIELD, Conn. (December 20, 2016) — Yemen’s health system is on the brink of collapse, according to a new briefing by Save the Children, which includes interviews with doctors and parents in the war-ravaged country. Struggling to Survive: Stories from Yemen’s Collapsing Health System shows child mortality rates are increasing. At least 1,219 children have died as a direct result of the fighting but a chronic lack of medical supplies and staff are causing an additional 10,000 preventable deaths per year, described in the briefing as the "invisible causalities of Yemen’s war."

More than 270 health facilities have been damaged as a result of the conflict and recent estimates suggest that more than half of 3,500 assessed health facilities are now closed or only partially functioning. This has left 8 million children without access to basic healthcare, according to the UN.[1]

There are also critical shortages of qualified staff throughout the country, with many doctors and staff either leaving Yemen or forced to flee their homes and being internally displaced.

"Even before the war tens of thousands of Yemeni children were dying of preventable causes. But now, the situation is much worse and an estimated 1,000 children are dying every week from preventable killers like diarrhea, malnutrition and respiratory tract infections," said Edward Santiago, Save the Children’s Yemen Country Director.

"With parents losing their jobs and livelihoods owing to the chaos of war, many told us they have to sell belongings like jewelry, vehicles, gas canisters and land just to be able to afford the trip to hospital while others have taken out loans. Once there, they often can’t afford the cost of the medicines their children urgently need while many other parents find the facility just does not have life-saving medicines."

Hilel Mohammed al-Bahri, Deputy Manager of Al-Sabeen Hospital in Sana’a, has seen a 300 percent increase in the price of most medicines since the war began in March 2015 making treatment unaffordable to the hospitals and most families.

"We have a lack of medicine and salary for doctors and employees," al-Bahri said. "We count on income from the patients who pay small fees. But if we need maintenance or a spare part for our hospital equipment, we don't have the money. We don't have parts for devices because of the blockade. We can only put babies younger than nine months old in the ICU. We don't have room for the older babies. We have only 20 beds for ICU units yet we are the only children's hospital in the area."

With increasing need but few beds and incubators, many babies and children are being turned away from facilities or, as in Al-Sabeen Hospital, are being placed with highly infectious conditions like measles in the same open wards as non-infected children because the hospital lacks space and equipment for an isolation unit.

Save the Children is responding to this dire humanitarian crisis by supporting 60 health facilities with essential equipment, medicine and training across the country. The organization also runs mobile medical teams that provide life-saving nutrition interventions; its programs to support the crumbling health sector have reached 400,000 people this year, more than half of whom are children.

Save the Children is calling upon parties to the conflict to remove all obstacles to the import of essential commercial and humanitarian supplies and to allow rapid and unimpeded humanitarian access throughout Yemen. All parties should also respect their obligations under international humanitarian and human rights law and take immediate measures to prevent and end grave violations against children. These include the killing and maiming of children, attacks on hospitals and recruitment and exploitation by fighting forces.

[1] UNOCHA Humanitarian Needs Overview

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