Stories From The Field - Yemen

Helping Babies Breathe Training in Yemen

By Dr. Lia Harris, Pediatrician, HBB Master Trainer
November 2019 

At home, as a Neonatal Resuscitation Program (NRP) trainer, I have the luxury of using high-fidelity mannequins, and Neonatal Intensive Care (NICU) equipment, to teach complex skills to highly trained birth attendants. The majority of babies who do not breathe at birth, however, only need basic resuscitation measures, using simple, inexpensive equipment to provide life-saving care. I became an HBS Master Trainer to be able to share that education in resource-limited settings. 

In November 2019, I volunteered with MedGlobal on a combined medical, surgical, and training mission in Yemen. As a Helping Babies Breathe Master Trainer, I was excited about the opportunity, because the last time HBB was taught in Yemen by a foreign Master Trainer was in 2014 by USAID. Due to a severe and protracted war in the country, NGO access has been very limited, and the health care system has been profoundly compromised. 

Before the mission we connected with many partners, including the very USAID trainers who taught HBB in 2014, as well as UNICEF Yemen and leaders from both hospitals. Through partnership, we were able to learn the needs of the local facilities and access an Arabic version of the HBB material which had been specially illustrated for Yemen. With the help of HBS administration, the Yemeni Arabic version is now available on the AAP’s International Resources website.

We taught HBB at Sayoun General Hospital in Hadhramout Governorate and Karah Women’s and Children’s Hospital in Ma’rib Governorate, November 6 to 21, 2019. At both hospitals, a combination of midwives, doctors, and nurses were taught the HBB course in a train-the-trainer model and went on to be observed teaching the course to their colleagues. In total, 54 providers were trained, 13 of whom were trained as instructors. MedGlobal provided training kits to each of the new instructors.

Dr. Lia Harris Training midwives at Sayoun General Hospital; photo by Marc Roussel

Daughter watches her mother practice HBB skills during training at Karah Hospital; photo by Lia Harris
Sadly, due to the conflict in Ma’rib causing security concerns, the MedGlobal team was delayed in arriving, and then told we needed to leave the country early. As a result, although the plan was to teach equal numbers in each city, fewer students were taught in Ma’rib and the training, particularly for providers, could not be consolidated in the time we were there. 

I was profoundly moved to observe the considerable resilience of the Yemeni people in the face of daily threat of war. On one of the planned training days at Karah Hospital, the MedGlobal team was told it was too risky to travel to the hospital that day due to fighting occurring nearby. I contacted my trainer students who replied, “Ok, Inshallah (God willing) you will come tomorrow.”  They were deeply grateful even for the limited education they received. As another example of their adaptability, one provider who could not get childcare brought her daughter to the training. The little one patiently watched us the whole day.

The unfinished training remains on my mind. MedGlobal is planning three return missions to Yemen in 2020, provided it is safe for foreign travellers. Inshallah, we will be able to return to further support Yemeni health care providers and strengthen their skills using this life-saving education.