More than 20 million people are in desperate need of humanitarian assistance in Yemen after more than two years of brutal conflict. The country’s infrastructure has been destroyed and its health services crippled. Nearly seven million people do not know where their next meal will come from and 380,000 children are at risk of severe acute malnutrition. UNICEF is supporting mobile medical teams to reach children in remote areas, like four-year-old Yahya, with lifesaving help.
By Thomas Charteris, Relief International
SANA’A, Yemen, 16 October 2017 – “He is very weak and cannot even walk anymore. He’s lost so much weight.” Muhammad, 50, is desperate when he reaches the mobile medical team. He came on foot, carrying his feather-light son, Yahya, 4, in his arms. Muhammad has seen other children in his village die from malnutrition and he’s terrified the same fate awaits his son.
Muhammad lives with his wife and 10 other sons in a small stone house with dirt floors. There are no toilets or running water in his village. The nearest hospital is a three-hour drive away along rocky mountain roads.
He first heard about the mobile medical team when our community volunteers came to his door, screening children for malnutrition. They told him Yahya needed urgent treatment.
“I knew Yahya could die if I didn’t reach this mobile facility and get help,” said Muhammad. “I don’t know what is wrong with him but there is no one else to help us out here.”
After assessing Yahya’s condition, the nurse warns that he could die in the coming weeks if he doesn’t receive treatment. Muhammad is provided with a supply of the peanut-based nutrition supplement Plumpy’nut and told to bring Yahya back in a week for a check up.
Muhammad brings Yahya back to the medical team every week and Yahya’s condition improves significantly. Although still severely acutely malnourished, the circumference of his arm – used as an indicator for malnutrition – has increased from 8.5 cm to almost 10.5 cm.
Yahya is also visibly happier and more active. He has started to walk again and even his hair has become a bit thicker.
With more than half of Yemen’s health facilities no longer functional, mobile medical teams are often the only way to reach children with lifesaving help. As of July, UNICEF and partners, like Relief International, have provided treatment to nearly 82,000 children for severe acute malnutrition this year. But as the number of people in need of assistance continues to grow, UNICEF is appealing for increased funding to reach and help the most vulnerable children in Yemen.