A Second Chance: Supporting a Young Yemeni Girl’s Recovery Back to Full Health

Sana’a – “I’m a daily worker — moving from one city to another, leaving my family behind,” said Akram, who is regularly forced to leave his wife and their five young children in their home in Al Mahwit governorate, Yemen, in search of work.

He is one of the millions of Yemenis struggling to survive the economic impacts of over five years of conflict. Lack of basic livelihoods among other factors has led to 80 per cent of the population in dire need of humanitarian assistance.

Shumookh is Akram’s youngest daughter, and at just two and a half years old, she loved to play and run amok in that joyful way that only toddlers can.

Akram’s father-in-law paid a visit to the family one afternoon, so his wife went to make tea – a traditional Yemeni welcome. Little did the family know that this normal event would change their lives forever.

“When my wife left to make the tea, Shumookh and my five-year-old son followed her to the kitchen. Unaware of the risks, the little girl grabbed the gas pipeline and pulled it, causing the extremely hot tea to spill all over her,” said Akram, explaining the accident that nearly cost his daughter her life.

Shumookh suffered third-degree burns on her back and left arm — where the boiling hot water landed on her young skin. The family live in an isolated area near Al Mahwit city where there are no medical facilities locally.

With nowhere to turn, they resorted to using various traditional remedies to treat the young girl’s burns, but her condition worsened. She was no longer able to walk or even get up; she had to lie down all day on her belly until her stomach felt sore from the constant pressure and then she would briefly adjust her position.

After a month, her parents did not know what to do so they sent their daughter to her grandmother in Al Mahwit city, hoping she could receive better treatment at Al Jumhori Hospital, which was supported by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) through a partnership with the Government of Japan.

The parents did not realize that they could lose their daughter until they were asked to sign a waiver at the hospital. The doctors told them she needed a critical surgery, and that she should be taken to Sana’a if they wanted a safer treatment.

The parents could not afford to travel to Sana’a, so they were left with a difficult choice between having the surgery take place in Al Mahwit with uncertain results or try to let their daughter attempt recovery from the burns on her own.

Deciding to take more time to think about the surgery, the parents took her back home.

Dr Helal Al Dalali, an IOM Medical Assistant in Al Mahwit, had heard about Shumookh’s condition from a colleague and visited her.

“When I saw her, her back burns were badly infected and needed urgent medical attention. I immediately called Dr Amr Al Nashir, a Referral Assistant at IOM in Sana’a, and told him about Shumookh’s case,” explained Dr Helal.

Hope was brought back to the family when they received a call from Dr Helal telling them that IOM would support the full treatment of their children in Sana’a.

Committed to the provision of health care to vulnerable and conflict-affected communities, IOM provides financial support for referral and ongoing care of critical medical situations, especially where no other option is available. This type of support provides lifelines to communities, particularly those living in rural areas like Akram’s, who would otherwise find themselves in desperate situations, unable to access specialized treatment.

“Dr Helal called me and told me that IOM will cover our transportation, the hospitalization of my daughter, and the full medication and surgery fees. I was overwhelmed,” said Akram.

At a hospital in Sana’a, Dr Amr received the family and supported them throughout the treatment. IOM also assigned a medicine account at the hospital’s pharmacy to ensure that Shumookh could receive whatever medicine she needed.

Shumookh received a full back skin transplant in which surgeons removed the skin from her leg and graphed it onto her back. The family spent a month in Sana’a until she was fully recovered, and they could head back to Al Mahwit.

It has been nearly a month and a half since the surgery, and little Shumookh is now able to run, play and laugh, as she used to. The family is still struggling to make ends meet but seeing their daughter in good health again means the world to them.

Written by IOM Yemen’s Mennatallah Homaid and edited by Olivia Headon.