Conjoined twin boys born in the chaos of Yemen’s war may be evacuated to Saudi Arabia for live-saving treatment, Saudi authorities said on Thursday.
Abdelkhaleq and Abdelkarim were born two weeks ago in Sanaa, Yemen’s capital, where the health system has collapsed under years of airstrikes and blockade by a Saudi-led military coalition.
The tiny boys have separate heads, spines, lungs, hearts, but they share a liver, reproductive organs and a pair of kidneys, arms and legs between them.
Dr Faisal al-Balbali, the head of the neonatal unit at al-Thawra hospital, said their lives depended on getting treatment outside of Yemen.
"They need to travel immediately. They will not be able to survive in Yemen under the social, political and economic circumstances in this country,” he said.
Dr al-Balbali said his team did not have to perform even basic tests like an MRI, let alone conduct a complicated surgical procedure to separate the twins.
After the case began to receive international attention, Saudi authorities said they were prepared to evacuate the boys from Sanaa for treatment “as soon as possible”.
Abdullah al-Rabeeah, head of Saudi Arabia’s King Salman Aid and Relief Centre, said a team of Saudi doctors would look at whether it was possible to separate the boys.
Although their bodies are joined, doctors said their immune systems are distinct. "Even if one is unwell, the other is fine,” said Dr al-Balbali. “They are different in every aspect.”
Yemeni doctors have reported a general rise in birth defects since the start of the war in 2015, which they said could be down to poor nutrition.
The UN has warned that around half of Yemen’s 28 million people are living on the brink of famine and described the situation as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
Saudi Arabia and its military allies have stopped civilian flights in or out of Sanaa airport since 2015, making it almost impossible for people to get out for medical treatment.
The war broke out in 2015 between the Houthi rebels and Yemeni government. Saudi Arabia and a military coalition of Arab states are fighting on the side of the government while the Houthis have received some support from Iran.
Britain and the US are both supporting the Saudi bombing campaign against rebel-held areas, despite high numbers of civilian casualties, many of whom have been killed by weapons made in the West.
Houthi forces have fired a number of ballistic missiles into Saudi Arabia, including at Riyadh’s civilian airport.
The UN has lost count of the casualties in the war but human rights groups estimate it may be more than 50,000. Both sides have been accused of war crimes.
The two sides met in Sweden late last year for UN-brokered peace talks, which yielded an agreement on a ceasefire on the key port of Hodeidah and plans for a large-scale prisoner swap.
The UN hopes that the initial agreement may blossom into a comprehensive peace deal to end the fighting. So far the ceasefire has held although it remains patchy. Talks are continuing on the prisoner swap.