The following article discuss the unequal effects healthcare deterioration has had on women and children in Yemen, specifically reproductive health. Through highlighting how the current escalation of the health crisis in Yemen has effected health infrastructure disproportionatley for women, the extent to which the conflict and lack of international aid has placed millions of lives at further risk to disease, violence and exploitation.
Yemen remains one of the largest humanitarian crises in the world, with around 23.4 million people in need of assistance, including almost 13 million children. After continued conflict since 2014, the national socioeconomic systems of Yemen have collapsed. At the same time the conflict which has forced large-scale displacement and the recurring geo-effects which climate change attributed to, has left the Yemeni people vulnerable to disease spread and outbreaks. The availability of functioning health infrastructure has disappeared due to the conflict causing shortages in human resources, equipment and supplies has hindered healthcare provision. As a result only 50% of health facilities are fully functional, which only 25% of the rural population has access to. Due to such effects, over 80% of the population faces significant challenges in reaching food, drinking water and access to standard health care services.
In the collapse of health infrastructure in Yemen, reproductive healthcare has been unproportionly targeted, where only 35% of reproductive healthcare centres and clinics are operational. Reproductive health has long been neglected not just in Yemen but worldwide, which is attributed to the gender inequality gap, causing major health conditions and disparities between men and women in largely preventable illnesses. Even before the conflict begun women in Yemen already had the highest mortality rate during childbirth globally, which has only escalated since 2014. Forced displacement from conflict has found that 73 percent of homeless Yemeni people are women and girls, who have faced solely being the leader of households when men have been either at war or killed.
The reproductive health disparity in Yemen is illustrated with latest estimates pointing to one mother and six new-borns dying (half of whom were alive during labour) every two hours due to preventable health issues resulted from the lack of access to health infrastructure and supplies, where only 50% of births are attended to by a skilled professional. Such skilled professionals do not have access to equipment and sanitisation to ensure a clean and healthy birth, as such every birth risks infection and possible death. As the conflict has also taken a direct toll on necessary health infrastructure, it is now estimated by the World Bank to be the third main cause of death in Yemen, following ischemic heart disease and neonatal disorders. Even before labour pregnant women face death due to high rates of malnutrition and low immunisation rates, pregnant women are particularly susceptible to contracting disease. Additionally, through displacement and the effects of the climate change crisis, access to a nutritionally adequate diet for both mother and baby both when pregnant and post-partum is almost impossible to manage. As such high rates of malnutrition, diet related illnesses as well as miscarriages are found in pregnant women in Yemen.
The needed protection of women and girls has only drastically increased. Due to the financial crash in Yemen economic infrastructure job security for Yemeni men has disappeared, finding high rates of unemployment causing frustration in the Yemeni male population. As a result, frustration and anger of the current climate in Yemen has become displaced, where increased domestic violence and violence against women has resulted in more than 6 million women in need of gender based violence services and care. The COVID-19 pandemic only escalated the situation further. Child marriages have again become more common, placing vulnerable young girls in a position which allows men to release frustration and anger upon them. The UNFPA found that child marriage was particularly high in the displaced population, where 1 in 5 displaced young girls between the age of 10-19 being married. Child marriage is recognised as a major barrier to gender inequality as it demonstrates how young girls and women are objectified and found of being of a lower status in a society. These young girls are as such denied educational rights and employment opportunities, and are instead found with unwanted pregnancies.
Inaction in Yemen
Since the UN named Yemen to be the largest humanitarian crisis in the world, further funding has been extracted from international aid sent directly to Yemen. The United Nations Populations Fund (UNFPA) in 2021 called urgently for extra funding due to a funding shortage which risks cutting lifesaving services, placing women and girls lives in further danger. Access to Yemen, due to enforced blockades, causes difficulties in reaching the displaced and vulnerable Yemeni population. Additionally, it means that assistance in healthcare reconstruction is more difficult due to the barriers which volunteers face. As such, aid that is targeted at Yemen requires further effort to reach those in need.
The Saudi Arabian-led coalition, which helped with the construction of the Yemeni government, was originally backed by the United States and United Kingdom. Some, as such, claim that the lack of international aid and intervention found in Yemen, as well as the little media coverage in the Western international scene is due to the previous support of the Saudi-Arabian assistance in the Yemen government construction. Even if this is not the founding reason of inaction in Yemen, the international scene still must be called upon to place more importance on assisting the people of Yemen. This means further funding and a re-assessment in how aid can be delivered to Yemen by placing the Yemeni populations needs first.