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Fighting a silent killer in a conflict zone

23 May 2022, Impact of Our Work

Reaching children caught up in war with the essentials they need to survive

14-month-old Amir* loves playing with his toys. He turns over and stands up. He eats his favourite foods - potatoes, bananas and eggs. He likes listening to songs such as “Dad brought me a balloon” and “Go to sleep”.

These are all behaviours you would expect from a child his age. But barely six months ago, Amir was so tiny you could hold his hand with just one finger. So weak from vomiting and sick with diarrhoea, he was suffering severe acute malnutrition - just one of the many children in Yemen going hungry due to the ongoing conflict.

Fatima holds her son Amir, who was listless, weak and tiny for his age.
Photo: Anna Pantelia / Save the Children

With the help of donors, Save the Children supported Amir to get the urgent medical treatment he so desperately needed. He was discharged after five days in the hospital, and a volunteer continued to visit him at home to take his measurements and provide him with nutritious food. 

Fatima, his mum, expresses her relief, “My son’s situation is getting better than what it used to be. They provided him with medicine and nutritious food. There is a progress in his case.”

“I felt so comfortable when my son started to receive treatment. I hope that my son will be healthy and starts to walk in the future,” she continues.

Health care workers measure Amir’s arm circumference
with a MUAC band to monitor his recovery from acute malnutrition.
Photo: Hadil Saeed/Save the Children

The silent killer in conflict - malnutrition 

Amir’s experience with malnutrition was brought about by simply not having enough nutritious food.

In Yemen, where Amir lives with his mother, the war is now entering its eighth year and is impacting families’ sources of food, causing hunger, with tragic consequences for children. As the violence of war gets closer to their homes, families are often forced to flee to remote regions where food, water and healthcare are scarce or inaccessible.

The community here is facing a problem. They are suffering from lack of food.

Fatima, Amir’s mum

A report by Save the Children estimates that over half a million young children have died in conflict zones recently. Many were not killed directly by the fighting, but from the knock-on effects of conflict, such as starvation and disease.**

But malnutrition is preventable and treatable.

Thanks to our donors’ generosity, the health facility supported by Save the Children where Amir was treated was able to provide medical consultations for over 3,500 children. They treated more than 300 children for malnutrition in Amir’s community alone.

Amir has now recovered, with therapeutic and nutritious food, medical check-ups and continuous monitoring by healthcare workers.

Ukraine crisis pushes more children to the brink 

But Amir is just one child among many. In Yemen, right now, many children’s lives are threatened by malnutrition. And this continues around the world, with many more at risk of illness or even death due to hunger.

The crisis in Ukraine is pushing these children further to the brink of starvation. Russia and Ukraine account for a significant amount of the world’s wheat supply, together exporting more than a quarter of the world’s wheat in 2019. The current violence is set to cause a sharp rise in global grain prices, with the cost of wheat predicted to rise up to 50% in some countries.

In Yemen, where 95% of wheat is imported, including more than 30% from Russia and Ukraine, wheat and bread make up over half of the calorie intake for the average household. 

The price increase in food staples is having a devastating impact on families who are already reducing food portions or skipping meals in order to cope. This puts millions of children at risk of illness or even death due to hunger.

But with lifesaving nutritional support and healthcare, there’s a great chance for children to survive this deadly threat and recover from malnutrition. Amidst devastating conflict, children can grow up well and stay healthy. Just like Amir.

*Names have been changed to protect identity.
**Source: ‘Conflict kills 300 babies every day’, Save the Children

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