September 5, 2019 / 5:14 PM / 18 days ago

U.N. says women and babies at risk in Yemen as funds crunch forces clinics to shut

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The United Nations warned on Thursday that more than half its reproductive health facilities in war-hit Yemen would close by the end of this month, putting the lives of women and babies at risk, unless it got more funding.

The UN Population Fund (UNFPA) said it had closed 100 facilities at the end of August and would have to shut 75 more this month, leaving 650,000 women and girls without access to vital services.

The facilities perform a crucial role in treating pregnant and lactating women for acute malnutrition in a country pushed to the brink of famine by conflict. The UNFPA estimates that 1 million pregnant women in Yemen are malnourished.

“We are now trying to reach as many women as possible with a minimum package of reproductive health services, so that no woman dies giving life,” said Nestor Owomuhangi, the UNFPA’s deputy representative in Yemen.

“The closure of these reproductive health facilities would mean that in the immediate term, 100,000 women who may develop life-threatening complications would not be able to access the services they require.”

The UNFPA, which supports 268 clinics in Yemen, said it had raised just $33 million of the $110 million it needed for 2019. The funding shortfall has already forced the agency to stop buying in medical equipment and supplies.

“The immediate impact is that the quality of services is compromised,” said Owomuhangi.

“Clearly you could lose a number of women and babies as result of the lack of quality,” he added, citing the risk of premature babies dying for the lack of an incubator.

In Yemen, a woman dies from complications of pregnancy and childbirth every two hours, according to the UNFPA.

Due to the conflict, only about half of Yemen’s health facilities are functioning and many women already have to travel far to get to a clinic, risking being stopped at checkpoints along the way.

Even before the conflict Yemen was the poorest country in the Middle East and the country now faces the worst humanitarian crisis in the world, according to the United Nations.

A Saudi-led coalition has been fighting the Houthi group in Yemen since March 2015. The coalition is backed by Western countries including the United States and Britain.

Reporting by Lena Masri, Editing by Claire Cozens. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org

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