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At a glance: Yemen

In Yemen, a community volunteer overcomes obstacles to helping malnourished children

© UNICEF Yemen/2012/Al-Asaadi
Mona Ali Aiash, a community volunteer in Deer Aiash Village, Yemen, holds her 3-year-old son Ahmed.

By Mohammed Al-Asaadi 

HODEIDAH GOVERNORATE, Yemen, 31 July 2012 – Mona Ali Aiash, a community volunteer in Deer Aiash Village of Hodeidah Governorate, conducts bi-monthly house visits to families with children under age 5.

Ms. Aiash attended a community volunteer training in 2006 through a UNICEF initiative known as community-based management of acute malnutrition (CMAM). There, she learned how to screen children for malnutrition and to refer those in need to the nearest health facility for treatment. She became a dynamic community mobilizer, educating other women and urging them to take their children to outpatient therapeutic centres, which are jointly supported by Ministry of Public Health and Population and UNICEF, for screening.

Though she was working on behalf of the welfare of her community, Ms. Aiash encountered resistance. It took time to convince members of her village to listen to her advice.
“They did not trust me in the beginning,” she said. “They think their kids being little or short is ok. I kept visiting the relatives and used to invite women to my house where I [would] teach them how to breastfeed instead of using a bottle and how to be hygienic to avoid diarrhoea and severe malnutrition.”

Ms. Aiash’s husband could not cope with his newly empowered wife. “I was asked to choose between my husband or keep helping the children,” Ms. Aiash said. “Making a difference in the lives of these children was a passion, and I was divorced.”

Alarming undernutrition

Yemen suffers from chronic underdevelopment, which has been exacerbated by years of conflict, including the recent 2011 crisis.

Almost two-thirds, 58 per cent, of all children under age 5 are stunted – the second highest rate in the world after Afghanistan – and the trend is worsening. Some 43 per cent of children under age 5 are underweight, and 15 per cent suffer wasting.

“These are unacceptably high malnutrition levels in very young children [6 to 23 months],” said Flora Sibanda-Mulder, a senior nutrition consultant with UNICEF Yemen. “This needs an urgent and effective emergency response that addresses the immediate and underlying causes of undernutrition in children so as to reduce mortality and malnutrition levels, particularly among the most vulnerable children.”

© UNICEF Yemen/2012/Al-Asaadi
Mofeed Sharaf, 15 months old, suffers from severe acute malnutrition. His mother Badria is malnourished as well. They are waiting to receive therapeutic food from a UNICEF-supported clinic in Yemen.

A December 2011 nutrition survey conducted in the Hodeidah Governorate showed an alarming global acute malnutrition (GAM) rate of 32 per cent. The rate of severe acute malnutrition (SAM), a potentially deadly condition, was a staggering 10 per cent.

In response, UNICEF is scaling-up its interventions to increase the number of local therapeutic programs. The organization is also expanding the network of community volunteer in different parts of the country. The plan is to train the existing 6,000 community volunteers working on immunization programmes to also give advice and provide treatment on nutrition.

In June, UNICEF began establishing 110 new outpatient therapeutic programmes in 16 targeted districts of Hodeidah. Training was supported for 153 community volunteers from five districts in the governorate in May, and in June, 220 health workers were trained. Another 431 volunteers are expected to be trained during the third quarter of this year.
These volunteers, like Ms. Aiash, will screen infants for malnutrition, promote optimal breastfeeding and refer malnourished children to outpatient therapeutic feeding centers for treatment.

“All the children I have referred over the years have all survived and are now growing healthy.  This gives me so much fulfillment and encouragement to continue,” Ms. Aiash said as she finished her visit with 15-month-old Mofeed Sharaf. “The boy and his mother are malnourished, but the boy is improving,” Ms. Aiash said.

One of the most committed volunteers

“Three years of continued and dedicated voluntary work makes Ms. Aiash one the most committed community volunteers in Hodeidah,” said Rasha Al-Ardi, a health and nutrition officer in the Hodeidah sub-office of UNICEF.

Ms. Aiash has found fulfilment in her work, and is now happy in her personal life, as well.

She is now married to a man she described as ‘the good husband’, who supports her work on behalf of the community’s children. He even encourages her to go back to school for a degree.

Ms. Aiash is also now the happy mother of two healthy boys: 3-year-old Ahmed and 12-month-old Dhaif Allah.



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