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YEMEN: Tens of thousands of severely malnourished children are left without treatment since March

Sana'a | 10 July 2020 | Save the Children

"In some of the clinics where we’ve had to scale back nutrition services, it’s getting truly horrific. The world is simply abandoning children to die."

  • Number of children receiving essential care for deadliest form of hunger drops 74% since March
  • Save the Children has spokespeople available for interview. Please contact media@savethechildren.org.uk / 0207 012 6841 / (24 hrs) 07831 650409

Tens of thousands of children in Yemen are missing out on life-saving treatment for severe malnutrition due to funding shortfalls, Save the Children says.

The charity’s analysis of Yemen Health Cluster data found services to nurse children back from the brink of starvation have plummeted by 74% since March.

A monthly average of just 9,500 children under the age of five were admitted for “severe acute malnutrition with complications” for treatment – children likely to die without immediate care – after funds began to dry up in April. That compares to 37,000 children in the first quarter of the year.

At those rates, 27,500 children every month are expected now missing out on the vital treatment needed to keep them alive.[1]

Aid agencies have been struggling to raise funds for health services in Yemen – just 18% of the support needed for the humanitarian response this year has been found so far.[2]

Many of the supplies and staff that now remain on the ground have also been diverted to tackle outbreaks of COVID-19 and cholera.[3]

Severe acute malnutrition, the most extreme form of hunger, is a life-threatening condition requiring urgent treatment. It also significantly weakens children’s immune systems, which often means any additional medical complications or infections prove deadly.

Xavier Joubert, Country Director for Save the Children in Yemen, said:

“Parents are turning up with their children at health facilities only to find there aren’t enough supplies to help everyone. And there are shortages of crucial protective equipment so doctors and other staff often can’t treat them anyway. In some of the clinics where we’ve had to scale back nutrition services, it’s getting truly horrific. The world is simply abandoning children to die.”

Vaccine programmes for children under the age of one are also affected, raising concerns for longer-term child health. 20,788 fewer babies are now being vaccinated every month compared to the first quarter of the year, a 48% decrease, according to Health Cluster data.[4]

Save the Children’s own programme have been even more severely affected. The charity was able to vaccinate just 3,834 children against preventable diseases across its 240 health facilities in May 2020, compared to 13,685 in the same month last year. That represents a 72% drop.

As a result of funding shortfalls, the UN has warned the number of malnourished children under the age of five could rise to 2.4 million by the end of the year.[5]

Save the Children welcomes the funds the UK has pledged so far, along with the diplomatic pressure it is exerting to try and bring the warring sides back to the negotiating table. However these efforts are not yet enough, and the aid agency says the recent decision to resume arms sales to Saudi Arabia sends the opposite signal. Save the Children calls on the UK Government to throw its full weight behind bringing peace and protection to Yemen's children.

Donate to Save the Children's Yemen appeal or sign the petition to push for an end the war.


[1] Available monitoring data from the Yemen Health Cluster show 110,904 children under the age of five suffering from “severe acute malnutrition with complications” were admitted in the three months from January to March 2020 (36,968 average monthly admissions). In April and May, following a sharp reduction in funding for the Yemen humanitarian response, 18,924 children were admitted (9,462 average monthly admissions). That represents a 74% decline in average monthly admissions compared to the first quarter of 2020, or 27,506 fewer children every month. Save the Children assumes treatment needs from January to March have not decreased (and no alternative provision is available), so the decline in admissions is likely to represent children that needed urgent care but did not receive it.

[2] The UN’s Financial Tracking Service for humanitarian responses shows just $602 million (17.8%) of the $3.38 billion needed for Yemen this year has been funded.

[3] There have been 144,519 suspected cases of cholera so far in 2020 to June 14, according to the Yemen Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) Cluster. Children under the age of five represent 24% of the cases reported in 2020. As of July 3, Yemen had reported 1,244 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 336 deaths.

[4] In the three months from January to March 2020, 130,485 children under the age of one were vaccinated with the third, final dose of the pentavalent vaccine (43,495 average monthly vaccinations). In April and May 45,414 children were vaccinated (22,707 average monthly vaccinations). That represents a 47% decline, or an average of 20,788 fewer babies vaccinated every month. The pentavalent vaccine protects against five major diseases: diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis (whooping cough), hepatitis B and Haemophilus influenzae type b.

[5] UNICEF has said shortfalls in humanitarian funding could lead to an additional 30,000 Yemeni children developing life-threatening severe acute malnutrition over the next six months, and the overall number of malnourished children under the age of five could increase to a total of 2.4 million.



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