In my recent article, “1000 days of peril in Yemen,” I talked about the great threat facing the children in that embattled Middle East country. If these infants do not get proper nutrition, they suffer lasting physical and mental damage. They are scarred for life.
Tragically, this is often the case in Yemen, the poorest country in the Middle East.
This week Hedinn Halldorsson of UNICEF profiles one of the physicians on the front line of the struggle to save Yemen’s children. Dr. Rajia Sharhan is UNICEF’s nutrition officer running therapeutic feeding centres. Families are so poor in Yemen, they are even forced to do the unthinkable.
Dr. Sharhan says, “For poor families, letting a child die is, sadly, one of the options they sometimes resort to.” Sharhan also explains how crucial it is for Yemen’s physicians to be properly trained to treat malnutrition.
UNICEF Nutrition Officer Dr. Rajia Sharhan holds a young child at a therapeutic feeding centre in Sana’a, the Yemeni capital. (UNICEF Yemen/2011/Halldorsson)
The article is also full of warnings that policymakers must heed. Halldorsson writes, “At the therapeutic feeding centre at a large hospital in the capital, Sana’a, the mothers and grandmothers of six young patients all tell the same story. They say recent months have been particularly difficult due to Yemen’s political conflict, that they have no source of income or food.” An impoverished country like Yemen is not well-suited to absorb this prolonged political strife.
Dr. Sharhan says, “I often feel that I am in a vicious cycle. We treat one child and then watch new ones being brought in.” This is the struggle facing Yemen that often misses the headlines and news bytes. But children suffering is unacceptable and we have to do something about it.
The international community can help. The rehabilitation of malnourished children is a top priority in order to save a generation of youth. The future of Yemen is impacted by the rampant malnutrition and poverty in the population. In my previous article I mentioned how plumpy’nut supplies for all children in Yemen could make a huge difference. It would not even cost that much for the international community to come through.
There was once a time when one could buy a CARE package and send it to a country where children were suffering so much. I think people would like to do that today with Yemen. Maybe it’s this kind of initiative that would move the government leaders to follow.
This is an area where we can actually help Yemen relatively quickly. We have UNICEF, the World Food Programme, Save the Children, and others on the ground ready to work with Yemen and solve this crisis. They just need the support of the international community. All it takes is for a few in power to decide to take action to save the children and save Yemen.