Helping health workers help their communities during crisis
North Shewa Zone, Amhara region
The conflict that spread across five woredas (districts) in the North Shewa Zone of the Amhara region displaced more than 246,000* people. Health facilities also sustain significant damage in towns like Ataye and nearby areas, disrupting critical services to mothers and children. Since the conflict began in March this year, UNICEF is on the ground working closely with the regional health bureau by providing emergency medicines, hygiene supplies and therapeutic food. In addition, 414 health care providers were trained in social mobilization and provision of Maternal, Newborn and Child Health (MNCH) services in emergency situations. In his recent trip to the affected areas, our communication officer has met some of the health workers who are determined to continue providing much-needed health and nutrition services to their communities despite all the challenges.
Hayat Mahmud, 21 and her son Suali Seid are screened for their nutrition status in the town of Shewa Robit. Suali, who will celebrate his second birthday in two months, is moderately malnourished and is given energy biscuits. “My son was very scared, and he was crying when he hears gunshots. We left for the other part of town for safety. I lost my belongings, but I am glad that we are safe,” says Hayat.
Health extension worker Livan Tefera stands at a familiar site, next to the Wuriba health post, where she has worked for five years. In March this year, after conflict broke out in the outskirts of Shewa Robit, the health post was burnt down. “We lost all our records, supplies and furniture,” she says. “Our health post was one of the best performing in the area serving more than 6,000 people.”
Following the destruction, critical services such as immunization, antenatal follow up and treatment for malaria are seriously affected. “Some mothers even come to my house seeking help. I feel bad to see the health post in this condition.”
Despite the challenges, Livan did not stop serving her community. She mobilizes pregnant women, mothers with small children, and carries out a routine nutrition screening inside the health post compound. She also provides vitamin A supplementation, deworming tablets for children, working closely with her colleagues from the woreda health office to ensure maximum coverage. UNICEF supports her work by providing training on how to serve communities during emergency situations.
Thanks to the dedicated work of Livan and other health workers, more than 16,000 children and close to 800 pregnant and lactating mothers have been screened for their nutrition status in the zone. Malnourished children and women also get treatment. The reconstruction of the Wuriba health post is underway. Livan hopes it will be ready for the next Ethiopian new year in September.
Ayke Seid, a mother of four children is pregnant with her fifth child. Wuriba health post was where she used to get services. Now that it is burnt down because of the conflict, many pregnant women like her are missing out on their antenatal follow-ups.
Ayke appears weak and fatigued when she arrived for the nutrition screening. She is also malnourished. During a conflict, women and children are affected first and affected most. When essential services are disrupted, poverty and malnutrition rise, rolling back decades of progress made by dedicated community health workers. That is why UNICEF is equipping health workers like Livan with essential supplies at a critical time and when they are needed the most.
At a site where many displaced families are sheltering in Ataye town (48km from the town of Shewa Robit), nurses Tesfayeneh Lemango and Senayit Kefelegn (M) as well as pharmacist Killil Hailu (R) run a mobile clinic. “Many of the cases we treat here are related to upper respiratory infections and diarrhoea in children,” says Tesfayeneh. “This is obviously because people are staying in a congested space. We are also seeing cases of malaria because of the rainy season.”
As part of its support to the people affected by the conflict in Ataye town, UNICEF provided essential medicines and medical supplies. “We have antibiotics and non-inflammatory drugs which are critical for our work,” adds Killil. “Without these supplies, we cannot even imagine providing health services here.”
11 months old Meaza’s arm is measured with a Mid-upper Arm Circumference (MUAC) tape to assess her nutrition status at a mobile clinic in Ataye town. She is healthy and well-nourished. Meaza and her mother Dibab are displaced due to the conflict and are staying in a shelter with hundreds of people. The cute baby is too young to understand what happened in her village, but her mother wishes the best to happen to her child.
After Senayit examines her clients, Killil dispenses medicines right away. The mobile clinic is mostly busy in the mornings, and it run seven days a week. The team makes sure that mothers and children who miss out on their follow-ups get services. Cases that cannot be treated there will be referred to Ataye health centre which also sustains severe damage.
“I have made an oath to serve the community,” says Senayit after she gave drops of Vitamin A supplements to a child. “When the conflict started, we [the health workers] also run for our lives. But I am glad to be back and help the people. I am a mother of two children I know how they feel.”