Free maternal health services are a lifeline to expectant mothers in Yemen

Free maternal services are a lifeline to expectant mothers in Yemen
A midwife hands Saba her newborn son. Saba lost two earlier pregnancies because of a lack of obstetric care in a country where only half of health facilities are operational and only two out of 10 functional health facilities provide maternal and child health services. © UNFPA Yemen

On her way to the health center to give birth, Hailah almost fell off the back of a borrowed motorbike – twice. An oil shortage has led to high transportation costs. Her husband, Hamid, works in Saudi Arabia, but only makes a small income. That is how Hailah ended up on a bike driven by her brother-in-law. He eventually tied her to him to prevent her from falling. Traveling from a remote village in Dhamar Governorate, they bumped along poor roads for more than 13 miles. “I realized it was the end – there was no way for me and my child to survive,” Hailah recalled. “But I had to resist. I couldn’t be at home because of the great risk of severe bleeding or death.”

Saba, another Yemeni woman, had lost two pregnancies due to lack of obstetric care in her small village. There was no hospital or pharmacy and barely any clean drinking water. With the help of a UNFPA midwife who diagnosed and treated her condition, she was able to maintain this pregnancy. UNFPA is the only provider of maternal health medicines for women like Saba in Yemen.

A health system on its knees

But at seven months, Saba began exhibiting signs of fatigue. “I tried more than once to go to the hospital, which is more than 15 miles away, but I could not because of the lack of money,” she said. Near the end of her pregnancy, she started suffering from bleeding and severe pain. “What I was most afraid of was that many women in my village lost their lives or their newborns without health care or on the way to the nearest hospital.”

When Saba went into labor, her husband, Saeed, asked everyone in their village if he could borrow their car to go to the hospital. “None of them were able to help me because of the severe shortage of fuel,” he said. “I went to the black market with all my savings and bought two gallons of gasoline at a very exorbitant price: each gallon cost more than 70 dollars.”

The risks in Yemen

A woman dies while giving birth every two hours here. One in three women who would like to use family planning are unable to do so. Six out of 10 births take place without a midwife. 

Seven years of conflict has brought the health system in Yemen to its knees. Fifty percent of health facilities are operational across the country. In Yemen, only 2 out of 10 functional health facilities provide maternal and child health services.

In 2021, UNFPA supported 127 health facilities across Yemen, but lack of funding is forcing UNFPA to close half of them by the end of April. This means the lives of 1.3 million women are in grave danger. 17,000 women are expected to experiences life-threatening childbirth complications. According to a recent report, some 1.3 million pregnant and lactating women are also acutely malnourished.  

We have received only $15 million of the $100 million needed to provide sexual and reproductive health care through 2022. But you can help. Donate today to save the lives of women and girls in Yemen.

At the end of the journey, new beginnings 

Mother with newborn baby
Hailah, cradling her new baby daughter, had a harrowing trip on her way to the hospital. High fuel costs have made transportation just one more worry for expectant parents. © UNFPA Yemen 

Once Hailah arrived at the UNFPA health center, staff quickly transferred her to the operating room. 

“She reached us at the last minute. She and her baby were about to die,” her doctor said. “The operation was a success — her baby is in the incubator and she is in stable condition.” She added: “The free medical services that we provide are the only hope for women like Hailah. I can hardly imagine how many mothers and babies will die if these services are stopped.” 

Saba also experienced complications. She went immediately from the emergency room to the operating room for a Caesarean section. Saeed pulled the doctor aside to explain that they didn’t have any money, and, to his suprise, he found that everything was free. 

“It was my first time receiving obstetric care services,” said Saba, who had a baby boy. “I wish it was available before, and I wish all the women from my village can access these services and that these services continue.”

Hailah named her daughter Amal. “We almost lost its meaning in light of this cursed war that turned our lives into tragedy,” she said. 

But they didn’t lose the baby, or what her name means: “hope.” 

Dana Kirkegaard
Send help to women and girls in Yemen now.

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