Protracted conflict and economic decline in Yemen have led to the breakdown of public services, leaving millions of public servants - including healthcare workers - without regular salary payments. Meanwhile, malnutrition rates in the country have skyrocketed.

The IRC has been providing health services in the country since 2015 - and currently provides primary healthcare services, including sexual and reproductive health, mental health, and community health in seven governorates - through mobile health teamsWith funding from the European Union (EU), these mobile clinics provide assistance to vulnerable families in hard-to-reach areas without access to healthcare facilities.

Dr. Waood leans down to meet a young patient in Yemen.
Dr. Waood, health projects officer in Aden, during her visit and inspection of the mobile clinic vehicle work progress.
Photo: Gabreez Productions for the IRC

Yemen remains highly susceptible to disease outbreaks such as cholera, dengue fever, malaria and measles, with women and children in disproportionately higher risk of exposure. As economic instability deepens, almost 80% of families live in extreme poverty - barely making ends meet to afford enough food per day.

A young child is held by a caregiver while they eat a healthy peanut paste, provided by the IRC.
Ghadeer, 3 years old, eats peanut paste given to her by IRC health workers.
Photo: Gabreez Productions for the IRC

Rising food insecurity is one of the key drivers of protection needs in Yemen. Women and girls also face increased risk of violence, exploitation and abuse. Currently, more than 17 million people in Yemen require protection assistance. 

Families in Yemen are forced to marry off children or take them out of school in order to work. Approximately 2.2 million Yemeni children under the age of 5 suffer from acute malnutrition. 

Yemeni mother Asriya holding her baby daughter.
Photo: Gabreez Productions for the IRC

Asriya Abdo Hassan is a 28-year-old mother of twins who was displaced to Sahdah camp, located in the southern governorate of Al-Dhale’e. 

Asriya and her family lived in the Hodeidah district, where they owned their own house and cattle. One day, their neighborhood was bombarded with airstrikes.

“We were displaced because of the war, shelling, tanks, and rockets that targeted our home. We left our cattle and house, carrying nothing with us, except our clothes. We could barely save our lives and had to flee.”

Asriya's twins Asma Abdo, 9 months old, and Abdo Ali Abdo, 9 months old, inside their camp.
Photo: Gabreez Productions for the IRC

With her husband unable to find employment and the prices of food skyrocketing, the family struggles to afford basic necessities - even mattresses for their tent or food.

Yemeni mother Asriya cooking lunch.
Asriya is a 28-year old client of the IRC’s mobile health program in Al-Dhale’e, located in southern Yemen. Asria lives with her husband and 9 month old twins in Sahdah Camp, which hosts IDPs from other parts of Yemen that have fled conflict. Asriya’s 9 month old twins, Abdo and Asma, started to develop signs of malnutrition due to the inability of the family to secure adequate food.

Photo: Gabreez Productions for the IRC

Subsisting on a meager diet, Asriya’s 9-month old twins, Abdo and Asma, began to develop signs of severe malnutrition. 

“No one was expecting them to live. I wasn't eating or drinking because of their sickness. I was sitting next to them, waiting for their death.”

“No one was expecting them to live,” recalls Asriya. “I wasn't eating or drinking because of their sickness. I was sitting next to them, waiting for their death.” 

An IRC doctor weighing a baby
In southern Yemen, the IRC's mobile clinic team compares the child's weight with the mother's weight to find out whether the child needs nutrition supplements or not.
Photo: Gabreez Productions for the IRC

Eventually, they were treated at one of the IRC’s EU-funded mobile health clinics. “I tell Abdo and Asma, that they are children of the IRC - because they are the ones who saved your lives,” she says.

MUAC tape around a small child's arm
The IRC health team uses this paper gauge, called a mid-upper arm circumference measure (MUAC), to quickly identify if the child is at risk of malnutrition, and if he shows signs of recovery during the treatment.
Photo: Gabreez Productions for the IRC

The mobile health team measures the weight and height of a child to determine whether they need nutrition supplements. Using tools such as mid-upper arm circumference (MUAC) tape, they are also able to determine the severity of malnutrition a child is experiencing. With rising prices for food and basic commodities affecting families, including those displaced by the conflict, the work the EU-funded clinic does is crucial to families like Asma’s, who receive treatment free of charge.

A Yemeni mother holds her small child
Asriya’s 9 month old twins, Abdo and Asma, started to develop signs of malnutrition due to the inability of the family to secure adequate food.
Photo: Gabreez Productions for the IRC

Before the treatment for malnutrition, the twins were extremely weak, barely able to eat food or open their eyes. However, much to their mother’s relief, the treatment was a success. Abdo and Asma are laughing, crawling, and playing again.  

Nutrition Manager r. Ala'a Mohammed
Dr. Ala'a Mohammed, a Nutrition Officer with the IRC in Yemen, leads the EU-funded mobile health team. These mobile clinics target camps like Sahdah, where basic amenities are scarce, and assist displaced families with urgent medical care needs. 
Photo: Gabreez Productions for the IRC

“Most camps lack minimal health services, adequate shelter, and medical supplies,” says Dr. Ala’a, describing the dire conditions. “Most also lack water supply and don't have a sanitation network.” 

He explains how most people lost their jobs at the start of the war in 2015. For a country that imports 90% of its food, disruption of global supply chains and the depreciating Yemeni rial have made it impossible for most people to afford food and medication.

Tending a baby
Photo: Gabreez Productions for the IRC

The IRC mobile health clinic provides doctors to treat patients, a midwife to help pregnant and lactating women, immunization services, a pharmacist who dispenses medication, a nutrition assistant who monitors malnutrition among children, as well as a family counseling service. 

Midwives provide Asriya with information on the proper diet for herself and her children, to ensure their health and safety. They also advise pregnant women and new mothers in the camp on how to properly care for themselves and their children.

A small Yemeni baby holding her mother's hand
Photo: Gabreez Productions for the IRC

The challenging work conditions and remote service locations do not deter the IRC’s mobile health team from delivering assistance to those in need. 

“When we see children at risk of death, we treat them until they recover and regain their health completely,” says Dr. Ala’a, describing what keeps his team motivated. “These successes only motivate us. We are always available for the needs of children and those in the camps."

The IRC in Yemen

The IRC has been working in Yemen since 2012 and rapidly scaled up our support in 2015 to address growing humanitarian needs. While the ongoing conflict and restrictions of air and seaports create challenges, the IRC’s in-country 348-person staff and 648 paid volunteers maintain access to affected populations and continue to provide critical healthcare, as well as support for economic empowerment, women’s protection and empowerment, and education.

About our work with the European Union

The International Rescue Committee partners with the European Union to provide life-saving support to people caught in conflict and disasters around the world. Our work funded by the EU enables people to survive, recover and rebuild their lives.