The Billion Dollar Question.

This article originally appeared in Yemen Today in 2009.

by: Mahwash Ajaz.

I recently became a mom.

And yes. It has been the same ride that people talk about. It’s wonderful, it’s terrifying, it’s worth it, and it’s the toughest job in the world. It’s all and everything rolled into one. Once you become a parent – there’s nothing in the world that remains the same. Every aspect of your personal, social, physical and intellectual life takes a drastic paradigm shift and it’s all the more challenging if it’s all happening to you as an expat. Let’s forget about doing it all without your regular support group of friends and family, the toughest few weeks (first six weeks) of your child’s life (and yours, for that matter) are a whole new story altogether.

My son was born right here in Sana’a back in February of this year. Since then I have not had a single night’s complete sleep and everything and anything in my life has been about my son. From noticing the weather changes to managing the house budget, my priorities have a brand new permanent center: Jibran.

I hardly think that this change is a new concept. Anyone who steps into this challenging domain of parenthood knows, and knows well, the baggage that comes with it.

I did, however, bring into question what Yemenis feel about their children based on the numerous pediatrician and vaccination visits that I have had in the past couple of months.

One of Sana’a’s very famous pediatrician clinics (which shall remain nameless) has four very renowned doctors that provide consultation there. In my five to six visits to that place I can safely say that not only does the building need to be restored – the doctors also need to understand that children get sick. And when they do, parents go insane. And when parents go insane, sitting in a room designed like a cave, surrounded with MORE sick children does NOT bear well on their nerves. In another occasion as I took my son to be vaccinated, I noticed more chaos and lack of system for children’s healthcare. Off the top of my head, the gravest issue that comes to mind is the absence of a crucial vaccine called “PCV”/“pneumococcal conjugate”/”Prevnar”. It was supposed to be given by WHO but still isn’t available in Yemen. Parents also lack the option of obtaining this vaccine at the pediatrician’s office – an option that is easily available in other countries where WHO isn’t the sole supplier of vaccines.

This vaccine was designed to prevent many types of pneumococcal infection other than pneumonia, including acute sinusitis (infection of the nasal membranes), otitis media (inflammation of the middle ear), meningitis (inflammation of the protective membranes of the brain and the spinal cord), bacteremia (infection of the blood), sepsis (infection of skin, urine, lungs), osteomyelitis (infection of the bone marrow), septic arthritis (infection of the joints), endocarditis (inflammation of the inner layer of the heart), peritonitis (infection of the abdomen), pericarditis (infection of the inner sac of the heart), cellulitis (acute infection of the skin), and brain abscess (infection of the brain tissue).

The simple rule of economics isn’t new to anyone: where there is a demand, supply won’t be too far away. That got me wondering if Yemeni parents are aware of Prevnar and its benefits to their children. If they are, why do they not demand the vaccine. And if they are not – all they need to do is glance at their vaccination chart provided to them by the hospital and presto. You’re bound to notice that there’s a box that is unfilled and unchecked. All you have to do is ask the vaccination authorities why the vaccine isn’t available. And once they tell you they haven’t gotten it – demand it. Ask for it. Want it.

Because as a parent, I know, you’d want the best for your child. Whether it is a simple blood test or treatment for a disease or the possibility of prevention of disease, every parent wants the best in health and education and happiness for their child. Every parent wants their offspring to be the best that they can be – and I know that Yemenis are no exception.

What I can’t figure out is – why the apparent disregard for the basic services for children? Why are clinics so small and decrepit and why won’t the parents demand the vaccine for their children that can save them from potentially fatal diseases? Why won’t they go out of their way to ask for better healthcare for the lives of those who matter to them the most?


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