Saving the Lives of Pregnant Women in Yemen


By Jeff Baron

Midwife Samira Qaed recalls a woman who came to her village clinic in Yemen at the end of her pregnancy. Like many Yemenis, she had gone into labor never having had a checkup.

The woman’s placenta was positioned badly, and she was bleeding severely and unable to move. “The distance, searching for a car, absence of her husband, not being prepared for this—all complicated her case,” Qaed says. “It was a miracle that we saved this mother’s life. We immediately took her to the hospital. Thanks to Allah, she underwent a Caesarean operation and she was fine.”

Qaed and other midwives are on the front lines of the fight in Yemen to save women and their babies, and she says the biggest obstacle to good maternal health is getting patients to see a midwife. “She [the midwife] is the one saving the mother and the baby,” Qaed says. (Listen to her interview in this short video.)

Beyond the immediate goal of saving lives, Yemen’s midwives and an international effort supporting them are pursuing something even greater: to make healthy mothers and healthy babies the norm, and to make Yemeni society and its emerging government responsive to their needs.

A leader in that fight is Jamila Al-Raibi, a physician who serves as Yemen’s Deputy Minister of Health and Population. She laid out the challenges:

  • Yemen has one of the world’s highest maternal mortality rates. Seven Yemeni women a day die of complications from pregnancy or childbirth – leaving seven families in danger of collapse in the absence of a mother – and nearly all of the deaths are preventable.
  • Many Yemenis live in remote villages, where trained midwives are scarce and hospitals nonexistent.
  • Because of cultural norms, most Yemeni women are unwilling to be treated by male doctors.
  • Seventy percent of Yemeni women are illiterate, which makes providing them with health information more difficult – and cuts down on the number who can become midwives or physicians.
  • Yemen has a high birthrate, especially among its hardest-to-reach women. Illiterate women account for more than 90 percent of maternal deaths. (Learn more about women’s rights in Yemen in this short video.)

Efforts to attack maternal mortality are paying off, but Dr. Al-Raibi says part of the long-term cure must be a change in attitudes. (Learn more about maternal health in this short video.)

She says only 36 percent of pregnant Yemeni women have at least four prenatal visits for health services – the minimum that international health groups say is appropriate – often because they or their husbands do not consider more than one visit necessary.

As a result, Dr. Al-Raibi says, dangerous complications in pregnancy, such as high blood pressure or diabetes, often are discovered too late to get the woman proper care, and women can go into childbirth in high-risk situations far from a hospital or emergency obstetrical center.

And Al-Raibi says women need a stronger voice. In many cases, the pregnant woman can’t make the decision to see a midwife without the approval of her husband or older women in her family. “She should be very empowered and educated in order to say that ‘I need services and I have to ask for it,’” Al-Raibi says.

Suad Qasem, president of the National Yemeni Midwives Association, says more midwives are needed in Yemen’s rural areas, where her members are the only source of pregnancy care. Her group also is advocating for better training for midwives; many in rural areas have just two years of training after nine years of basic education, and the national standard is three years.

“If she is trained well, she will give good care for a pregnant woman,” Qasem says.

RGP provides training, advocacy

With support from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the Responsive Governance Project (RGP) is providing in-service training to improve the skills and knowledge of midwives. And it’s helping Qasem’s group and others become advocates for constructive changes in Yemeni society and government policy, especially for women and youths.

Abdul Karim Alaug, RGP’s Deputy Chief, says one of the priorities it identified was the expansion of emergency obstetrical care to ensure that every Yemeni woman has access to it.

RGP – which is led by Counterpart International – is designed to help connect Yemen’s government, civil society and the population so together they can identify a common agenda and ways to improve the country.

Karim says women and youths especially have sought to become participants, not merely recipients, in developing the policies designed for them, and the governance program is building the strength of civil society organizations vital to bringing about needed changes peacefully. (Watch this short video about women’s rights in Yemen.)

Dr. Al-Raibi, the Deputy Health Minister, says RGP has been instrumental in helping her agency and local health councils strengthen policies on maternal health. And says she is optimistic that the progress will continue.

“It will come by partnership with all developmental partners, with other governmental institutions and with the civil society,” she says. “No one can work alone, and no one can achieve success alone. It should be a partnership, and this is our hope in Yemen, that we will not have a woman die from preventable causes.” (Learn more here.)


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Midwives Take on the World’s Most Dangerous Country for Women



Fiona T.
Past Member 4 years ago

This is some sort of basic right

Eternal Gardener
Eternal G5 years ago


Debbie L.
Debbie Lim5 years ago

it's sad that such an important thing like maternal health and prenatal visits have to be approved by the husband or an older woman, when none of them are the ones who need them. Yemen needs more trained midwives who can travel far into the remote areas too, where most women have never properly had check-ups and need their help the most.

Nina Anghel
Nina Anghel5 years ago

Maternal and child health are so important to address, Kudos to all those who seek to improve health care in these areas!

Read more:

Sandra Streifel
Sandra S5 years ago

I would be very reluctant to support any women's health campaign by USAID and the Catholic Church. Both have very different priorities than women's health, or even human development at the centre of their mission. Just look how well they have done with Haiti--they've been working on that since independence.

Juliet D.
judith sanders5 years ago

While we are helping the Yemeni women, let's be sure to give them the tools to control their pregnancies. There's a bead counting method called CycleBeads that shows some promise:

Our politicians need to be confronted with statistics from the 1930s and earlier, showing how dangerous pregnancy and childbirth can be.

In Louisiana it is illegal to remove an ectopic pregnancy or a dead fetus that does not expel naturally. Better check what the laws are in your state.

Ra Sc
Ra Sc5 years ago

It's easy to forget how dangerous having a child is. With good medical care, it is fairly unusual for a woman to die from pregnancy or labor. But without medical care, it is sadly common. There is a reason so many old stories involve children whose mothers had died. It is better for the women and for the babies for there to be health care. And helping the next generation to start off healthy helps a little to decrease the problems they may have. I hope more work can be done to improve the health care for these women.

Vicky Pitchford
Vicky P5 years ago

whi the heck said no to that. of course it's a right, women die everyday in childbirth still

J.L. A.
j A5 years ago

Maternal and child health are so important to address, Kudos to all those who seek to improve health care in these areas!

federico bortoletto
federico b5 years ago

Grazie delle informazioni.