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The U.N. said malnutrition and other preventable diseases are killing thousands of children in Yemen as its health system is on the verge of collapse.
Every 10 minutes at least one Yemeni child dies of preventable diseases such as malnutrition, diarrhea, and respiratory tract infections, the United Nations said Tuesday, blaming the humanitarian crisis on the total collapse of the health system in the country amid an almost two-year war by Saudi Arabia and its allies.
“The state of health of children in the Middle East’s poorest country has never been as catastrophic as it is today,” Meritxell Relaño, UNICEF Acting Representative in Yemen, said, adding that malnutrition in the country is at an all-time high and increasing.
The U.N. children’s agency said at least 462,000 children suffer from severe acute malnutrition, which means they are extremely underweight for their height, a drastic increase of almost 200 percent since 2014.
The Saudi-led coalition kicked off a military campaign in Yemen against the Ansarullah Houthi rebels, which controls much of northern Yemen including the capital Sanaa, in March 2015, destroying much of Yemen’s infrastructure and killing more than 10,000 people, most of them civilians, while displacing millions.
According to UNICEF, Yemen’s health system is on the verge of collapse, with less than a third of the population having access to medical care, and more than half of the health facilities non-functional.
But even before the outbreak of violence last year, Yemen experienced widespread poverty, food shortages and a dearth of health services.
“Violence and conflict have reversed significant gains made in the last decade in the health and nutrition of Yemeni children,” Relaño warned. “Diseases such as cholera and measles have spread and, with few health facilities functional, such outbreaks are taking a heavy toll on children.”
Throughout 2016, the agency provided treatment for 215,000 children in Yemen suffering Severe Acute Malnutrition, also delivering vitamin supplements to more than four million children under the age of five.
However, a funding shortage limits the agency’s actions. In 2017, UNICEF said it will need US$70 million to provide the much-needed nutrition services to mothers and children across the country.
“We call on parties to the conflict to give us unhindered access to children in need across the country so we are able to deliver nutrition supplies, treat malnourished children and support Yemen’s health services,” urged Relaño.
Saudi coalition jets targeted several hospitals in Yemen over the past two years including those set up and operated by Doctor Without Borders.
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