An interview with Sabah Al-Dhafri, representative of a Yemeni midwives’ association

It’s been over 8 years of civil war for Yemen, and the country’s humanitarian crisis has been said to be the worst in the world. The demographics most impacted by the crisis are Yemeni women and children.

The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) reports that an estimated 77 per cent of the 4.3 million people displaced in Yemen are women and children. More than 6.5 million women require urgent access to protection services, while 8.1 million women and adolescent girls of childbearing age need help accessing reproductive health services. One woman dies every two hours during childbirth, and more than a million pregnant and breastfeeding women are already acutely malnourished, a number that could double with the food insecurity Yemen is facing. 

Midwives in Yemen first established a midwives’ association 18 years ago, and since that time, the association has been an active member of the International Confederation of Midwives and a strong advocate of women’s rights, especially in the context of this decade-long crisis.  Sabah Al-Dhafri, speaking on behalf of Yemenis midwives and their association, says the country has long been suffering from a great weakness in healthcare, and the war has only exacerbated these issues.

“Maternal mortality in Yemen is sky-high—even when compared to other neighbouring and poorer countries—and it’s because of the extremely limited access to health services,” said Sabah. “One mother and 6 new-borns die every two hours, and maternal deaths are estimated at about 400 per 100,000 births.”

Per 1,000 live births, the death rate for children under the age of five in Yemen has now reached 59.6 cases. The infant mortality rate has reached 46 cases, and the neonatal mortality rate has reached 28 cases per the same ratio. According to official estimates and United Nations (UN) statistics, however, these numbers are directly related to the circumstances that have left more than 4 million children and women in Yemen suffering from life-threatening malnutrition and the spread of disease.

To combat the effects of these dire circumstances, midwives in Yemen and the organisation that represent them hold a firm belief in the importance of proper planning and of clear goals. The association determined the course of its institutional work and now has 18 offices in 18 governorates and more than 5,000 qualified legal and health midwives throughout the geography of Yemen.

Among its objectives, the midwives’ association in Yemen focuses on reducing mortality and morbidity by increasing coverage of reproductive health services and obstetric services, which provide high-quality care in health facilities and deliver these services directly to homes through professional midwives. The association also implements its programs and projects by adopting innovative, continuous education methods that enable midwives to keep developing their skills. The association contributes to combating poverty and unemployment by supporting unemployed midwives to open home clinics in remote villages, which also helps facilitate women’s access to local healthcare and obstetric services. It also carries out regular surveys on the midwifery profession in Yemen, educational programs for the community, and small, community-based, incomegenerating projects. 

“We realise that Yemeni midwives and the organisations that represent them have a great responsibility in Yemeni society,” says Sabah. “It is our goal and aspiration to achieve the tangible results that we all seek.”

Based on its mission, vision, and principles, Sabah says the midwives’ association in Yemen looks forward to expanding its integrated, high-quality health interventions and focusing the assistance of donors and partners to improve women’s access to community-based, reproductive health services and maternal, newborn, and child health.

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