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Crisis in Yemen

Little girl braves cancer amid the war in Yemen

Conflict in Yemen has unleashed one of the world’s most urgent humanitarian crises. Millions of people are suffering from hunger and those with life-threatening illnesses don’t have access to the treatment they need.

Yousra is suffering from cancer in her left eye. Her mother, Hayat Ali, had to bring her nearly 175 miles from their home in the port city of Hodeidah to the country’s capital Sana’a to get the diagnosis. Yousra then underwent a week of chemotherapy at Sana’a’s Al-Jumhuri Hospital, paid for by a local charity. 

But Hayat, 20, soon ran out of funds and could no longer continue Yousra’s treatment. The little girl’s condition has now worsened and there are fears that the cancer may reach her brain. Hayat told a BBC reporter last week that Yousra lives in agony. “If they told me they could do an operation to give her my eye, I would do it,” she said.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), around 35,000 people have cancer in Yemen, with about 11,000 new cases diagnosed each year. Yousra’s only hope of survival is to undergo surgery abroad. “I have been trying for three years to find someone to treat her,” she said. “I’m looking for anyone who can help.”

Yousra is one of the many children with serious illnesses in Yemen who are struggling to get the medical treatment they need. The country’s health system is in tatters: Hundreds of hospitals and healthcare facilities have been destroyed or damaged in the war, leaving half the country without access to even basic health care. 

Hayat is also extremely worried about two of her other children, who are malnourished. She takes them to the IRC-supported health facility in Sana’a to be weighed and measured and receive treatment. There has been an alarming rise in malnutrition cases in Yemen, especially among children under five. Prices have skyrocketed during the war, and with a collapsed economy people cannot afford enough food for their families. 


On Oct. 31, the United States called for a ceasefire in Yemen after four years of deadly conflict. Since 2015, the Saudi- and Emirati-led coalition has launched 18,568 airstrikes—1 every 89 minutes. 

In September, 48 percent of these strikes hit hospitals, universities, schools and other non-military targets.

The IRC has 800 aid workers in Yemen who are tirelessly delivering vital aid to thousands of people like Yousra and her family. Learn more about the IRC’s work and how you can help.

Photos: Kellie Ryan/IRC