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Armed conflict, food insecurity, epidemic cholera, economic decline and deterioration of essential public services present overwhelming challenges to population health and well-being in Yemen. Although the majority of the population is in need of humanitarian assistance and civil servants in many areas have not received salaries since 2016, many healthcare providers continue to work, and families continue to need and seek care.
This case study examines how reproductive, maternal, newborn, child and adolescent health and nutrition (RMNCAH+N) services have been delivered since 2015, and identifies factors influencing implementation of these services in three governorates of Yemen. Content analysis methods were used to analyze publicly available documents and datasets published since 2000 as well as 94 semi-structured individual and group interviews conducted with government officials, humanitarian agency staff and facility-based healthcare providers and six focus group discussions conducted with community health midwives and volunteers in September–October 2018.
Humanitarian response efforts focus on maintaining basic services at functioning facilities, and deploying mobile clinics, outreach teams and community health volunteer networks to address urgent needs where access is possible. Attention to specific aspects of RMNCAH+N varies slightly by location, with differences driven by priorities of government authorities, levels of violence, humanitarian access and availability of qualified human resources. Health services for women and children are generally considered to be a priority; however, cholera control and treatment of acute malnutrition are given precedence over other services along the continuum of care. Although health workers display notable resilience working in difficult conditions, challenges resulting from insecurity, limited functionality of health facilities, and challenges in importation and distribution of supplies limit the availability and quality of services.
Challenges to providing quality RMNCAH+N services in Yemen are formidable, given the nature and scale of humanitarian needs, lack of access due to insecurity, politicization of aid, weak health system capacity, costs of care seeking, and an ongoing cholera epidemic. Greater attention to availability, quality and coordination of RMNCAH services, coupled with investments in health workforce development and supply management are needed to maintain access to life-saving services and mitigate longer term impacts on maternal and child health and development. Lessons learned from Yemen on how to address ongoing primary health care needs during massive epidemics in conflict settings, particularly for women and children, will be important to support other countries faced with similar crises in the future.