Fighting Hunger in Yemen

Every 75 seconds a child in Yemen dies of starvation from war-induced famine. The Oscar nominated film "Hunger Ward", directed by Skye Fitzgerald, takes a visceral look at what is happening through the eyes of two women healthcare professionals fighting hunger in northern and southern Yemen. One of the professionals featured, Dr. Aida Al Sadeeq, supervises the pediatric malnutrition ward at Sadaqa Hospital in South Yemen. In the film, we watch as Dr. Al Sadeeq shows incredible resilience as she is faced with the heart wrenching loss of patients as young as infants, while the wails of mothers echo throughout the ward. In the face of it all she holds hope, coaching ten year old Omeima that the most important thing is what is in here, as she gently points to Omeima's head. 

Over a series of Whatsapp voice notes, Dr. Al Sadeeq told us more about her work and her hopes. This interview is a part of our campaign to raise awareness around what is happening in Yemen. This is a tragedy that we in the US have the power to stop. Our tax dollars are going to reinforce this blockade that is preventing food and medicine entering the country. To learn more about what you can do to end this please follow @yemenialliancecommittee

100% of proceeds from Yemeni Coffee are going to create food baskets through @yemenfoundation, but we also urge you to directly donate to Yemen Foundation who is on the ground, doing the work to support the Yemeni people.

We also encourage our Vela family to watch the Oscar nominated film "Hunger Ward" here. The incredible film is a powerful medium to create awareness, empathy and move people to action.

Dr. Aida, what do you want people to know about the work that you do?

I have been working in the therapeutic feeding center (TFC) for more than 16 years which receives children suffering from severe acute malnutrition (SAM) with medical complications from Aden and the neighboring governorates and areas of armed conflicts. We are following the WHO guideline which had been contextualized to the Yemeni context. Children with complicated SAM are critical, they lose their adaptation to shortage of food and have a high risk of death.

What is the hardest part about doing the work you do?

Failure to save children. Sometimes, we lose patients because they are brought in too late with irreversible complications, this is true for primary malnutrition due to lack of food. Some children are brought with signs of SAM, but actually they have underlying illnesses that predispose them to malnutrition. We lose these children either because we do not diagnose their underlying illness or we do not have the treatment. This is true for primary immunodeficiency disorders (this was the first patient in the film, he was a primary immunodeficiency = wiskott aldrich syndrome).

Dr. Aida Al Sadeeq

 

What do you want people to know about these children that wasn’t covered in the film?

Severely malnourished children with medical complications are highly vulnerable to die.

Unfortunately, the need for inpatient care reflects problems in 3 stages before they come to the  therapeutic feeding center.

First stage is in the community, where active case finding and early intervention can be done by community health volunteers (CHVs). Because of the ongoing fighting, CHVs who belong to the ministry of health were lost with the loss of the status of the health system.

NGOs have their CHV’s, but can’t take the role of the government. NGO’s have their agenda. The second and third stages include: the management of moderate acute malnutrition and management of SAM without medical complications

Both are carried out in outpatient care, and again because of the ongoing conflicts health facilities were shattered and health workers were forced to move to earn their living.

What are your hopes for those that are able to leave the hospital, like Omeima?

I hope that they get to enjoy everything that children who don’t live in conflict areas do, like: nutritious food, access to good health care, peace, education, joy, and a safe and healthy environment.
10 year old Omeima being treated in the malnutrition ward

 

For people who have seen the film, what message would you like to leave them and how can people help?

Children in my country are not supposed to suffer from malnutrition, delayed diagnosis and treatment with irreversible consequences.

Help us to stop this war and the internal conflict between the north and the south.

NGOs ought to work to help people to return to their original environment, to rehabilitate health facilities in all parts of the country, and to help to fix the health system.

Personally, I also have another wish. I have been asking all foreigners and NGOs who visited me in the department to help me build a typical therapeutic and training center.The ward seen in the film is small and is not ideal.

Can you tell us a little bit more about your dream of a typical therapeutic and training center?

The first time this program was launched with UNICEF. They brought a doctor named Michael Golden and he told us in an ideal world we need to split the care in age groups. There should be two age groups: under 6 months and 6 to 59 months. Each age group should be managed separately in each stage. 

The kids under 6 months are very critical and need separate care areas. They need more care because they are more likely to have underlying illnesses that lead to severe acute malnutrition. This age group needs to be managed separately. 

We need a big room with 10-15 beds with all the care. Then we need a room just for stabilization. The kids in this phase are in a critical condition and should be managed in their own space with treatment to stabilize. After that group is stabilized and they are better, they should transition to another room for the transition phase. Finally the rehabilitation phase is needed to rebuild the child's body.

This phase is usually carried out in an outpatient department designed for the treatment of SAM without medical complications. In exceptional cases, children in phase 2 stay in TFCm so we need a separate room for them.

This kind of center would make all the difference. 


Thank you to Dr. Aida Al Sadeeq for the incredible work you do in the face of tragedy. And thank you for taking the time to talk to us. To our community, please share this article with friends and family to help raise awareness and create action.

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