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Yemeni women will die, aid workers warn, as U.N. cuts maternity services

by Ban Barkawi | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Thursday, 4 June 2020 13:20 GMT

Women and children are pictured at a camp for people recently displaced by fighting in Yemen's northern province of al-Jawf between government forces and Houthis, in Marib, Yemen March 8, 2020. Picture taken March 8, 2020. REUTERS/Ali Owidha

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Dried up funding shuts down maternity hospitals in Yemen, leaving women without care to die of childbirth complications

By Ban Barkawi

AMMAN, June 4 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Women in Yemen are already dying in childbirth and thousands more will be put at risk as U.N. funding cuts force reproductive health services to close, doctors and aid workers have warned.

The United Nations is the main provider of reproductive health services in Yemen, where a long-running conflict has left 80% of people reliant on aid, but it has been forced to cut back its operations due to a funding shortfall.

Last month the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA) stopped providing reproductive services in most of the 180 facilities it supports in Yemen, leaving about 320,000 pregnant women without care.

Since then, at least two women whose local maternity facilities closed have died in childbirth, said Nestor Owomuhangi, deputy representative of the UNFPA in Yemen.

"Complications cannot be handled at home, they have to be attended by a skilled health worker," Owomuhangi told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

"Where you have no specialized care to at least check the dangerous signs of pregnancies, that's our worry."

His comments came after the head of the UNFPA Natalia Kanem urged international donors at a conference on Tuesday to give more to fund its operations, saying Yemeni women "cannot afford to wait".

The agency said it had received only 41% of the $100.5 million it needs to find its operations this year, even as it grapples with the impact of the coronavirus on a population weakened by malnutrition after five years of conflict.

The conflict between a Saudi-led coalition and the Iran-aligned Houthi group has displaced 3.6 million people, and health care services are collapsing.

Jan Egeland, who heads the Norwegian Refugee Council, said millions of Yemenis were "staring down the double barrel of starvation and a global pandemic".

At least two reproductive health specialists and six midwives have died of the virus in Aden, said deputy health minister Eshraq al-Sebaai.

"Today we're in paralysis in the face of the corona pandemic, economic collapse, a war crisis and the disruption of financial support," she said by phone from the port city. "We are now in need of immediate and urgent support."

The UNFPA was the main supporter of reproductive healthcare in Yemen, equipping maternity wings and funding the pay of 3,800 workers who provide care to about 2 million women.

Yasser Nasser said cuts meant the Hajdah hospital where he works as technical director had lost its paediatrician, anaesthesiologist and midwives and had to stop providing free care.

"People are barely able to afford the transport to come to the hospital from their villages," he said. "When we tell them the truth... the shock is visible on the patients' faces."

Doctor Eshraq Omrani lost her job at the Shahel Rural Hospital in a remote town in northwest Yemen in May because the hospital could no longer afford to pay her or her colleagues in the maternity wing.

She said patients were still turning up to the hospital, but could not be given help.

"Whoever doesn't die of corona will now die because of pregnancy and childbirth complications," she said.

Related stories:

Staying home means starving to death for millions displaced in Yemen

 Aid to Houthi-controlled Yemen to be cut back over risk it can be diverted -sources

Donors promise Yemen $1.35 billion, falling short of U.N. target to save aid operations

(Reporting by Ban Barkawi @banbarkawi; Editing by Claire Cozens. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)

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