Yemen’s Tragedy: A First Responder’s Blog from Inside the Crisis
By Doa’a Kutbi, International Medical Corps Health Program Officer, Aden
September 20, 2017 — Blog Entry #18
Editor’s Note: Doa’a Kutbi, a senior health and nutrition officer who works from our office in the southern port city of Aden, looks back on her three and a half years with International Medical Corps, where she has successfully nurtured an important program that offers both vital nutrition intake and quality health care to pregnant and nursing mothers and young children. She joined us just seven months after qualifying as a surgeon and becoming a mother — both on the same day! Since then she has taken on two additional titles: humanitarian — earned through her work with us — and Internally Displaced Person or IDP, a classification she received in the spring of 2015 after she and her family were forced to flee their home when Aden became a battleground in the country’s civil war. In her own words, her story is below:
I earned the two most significant titles of achievement in my life on the same day: surgeon and mother. I was taking the final exam required for my certificate to practice surgery when I went into labor. I finished the exam, then went directly to the hospital where I delivered my first child! It was a day I will never forget and the timing of those two events helped lead me to join International Medical Corps. My husband and I decided I should stay at home for six months so I could exclusively breast feed our new-born son, Sam, and it was during this time that my husband saw an International Medical Corps advertisement seeking an assistant for a new Health and Nutrition program.
It seemed like a good opportunity because the job would give me a period of stability with Sam that working as a surgeon could not offer during the critical first two years of his life. I knew my first priority was to lay the foundation of a healthy life for my baby, although I was concerned International Medical Corps might not want to hire me since I had no field experience.
I was surprised and excited when I received a call from the organization’s ’s Aden office in May 2014, inviting me for an interview and to take a written test. I passed both and was offered the job, but I was still worried because I had never worked for a humanitarian organization before. I found it difficult at first, but I was lucky to have a wonderful team of colleagues I could go to for help. I will always be grateful for the guidance and support extended to me by the program managers, area coordinators and others in the office. Whatever success I’ve had is because of the support they gave me at the start.
International Medical Corps began working in southern of Yemen in 2014 when it implemented health, nutrition, WASH and Food Security programs in Lahj Governorate, an area which borders Aden. It ranked among the areas most severely affected by the country’s nutritional crisis, with more than half the population designated as food insecure. Unstable security conditions prevented us from opening a sub-office in Lahj, so we had to operate the program from Aden. Learning how to balance my life with the demands of a new job and a new baby was also a personal challenge for me. Sam was seven months old when I began work and he was just starting on complementary feeding, so suddenly I was having to do things at my new job and as a new mother and had no experience with either one!. Without the support of my husband, my parents and the rest of my family, I wouldn’t have been able to make it.
The goal of the Emergency Nutrition and Health Support program I worked on was to reduce the mortality and morbidity of vulnerable groups in Lahj, including pregnant and nursing women and children under-5, by improving their nutrition and health status. To address these issues we implemented cost-effective services centered around a community management of acute malnutrition (CMAM) program, drawing assistance from the community so we could target the most vulnerable. We also began to address underlying causes of malnutrition through health and hygiene promotion, encouraging access to health services and the piloting of livelihoods projects.
We worked through 18 existing health facilities, integrating CMAM components into their work and providing effective health care. We used mobile medical teams where no health facilities existed and also used a network of Community Health Volunteers (CHVs) to promote awareness, build knowledge at the community level, support vaccination campaigns and refer sick or malnourished children for treatment.
We started three years ago as a primary health care health program operating in 18 health facilities in Lahj. Today, I am proud to say we provide both primary and secondary health care in 40 health facilities in both Lahj and Aden and have more donors supporting the program with more funds. But for me personally, I am even more proud that — under very stressful and difficult conditions — we were-able to preserve the continuity of program itself–to keep it going despite the outbreak of civil war and despite the fact I and my family were forced to flee our home in Aden and become ourselves one more number in a registry of IDPs at a time I was responsible for helping so many other IDPs in the course of my work. In the face of it all, it was also a time when I was able to improve my skills professionally and grow in my personal life. Yes, there have been many crises, but there have also been positives in my life.
Today, unfortunately many challenges remain and Yemen suffers greatly. It is difficult to convey just how bad conditions here are. The basic national infrastructure no longer functions. We try our best to begin a recovery and start again, but the health system is largely destroyed. We’re experiencing a major cholera outbreak, and a fuel crisis has led to electricity and water shortages. A lot of things have hit my country in the past few years, but we are not giving up. We are trying to gather our strength, to pick ourselves up and move forward. We cannot let go of the hope that conditions will improve. I’m sure that one day we will achieve our dreams, that Yemen will become a place of peace and good health — for my children and all Yemeni children. I cling to that hope.