All hands on deck to fight cholera in Raqqa
UNICEF scales up prevention and response activities
“I had never heard about a disease called cholera until the volunteers explained to us about it and told us how to protect ourselves and our families,” said Wisal in the Yawnani informal settlement, Raqqa city, northeast Syria. She had to flee her home, with her family, in Safa, rural Raqqa, six years ago.
Her son is sick and has diarrhoea. “I took him to the doctor, but he is still not getting well,” she added. With the health services poor in their community, she worries about his health.
“Health services here are very poor,” pitched in 30-year-old Ferial Salim. She is a mother of four living in the informal settlement. “Most of the time when there is no water in this settlement, we fetch it from the river. It is not clean, but this is the only source we have,” she explained.
“My child has been sick for three days. I took her to the health point here, but the medicine did not stop the diarrhoea. Today, the volunteers came and explained to us how to sterilize water before drinking or using it. They also gave us information about the cholera.”
“My child has been sick for three days. I took her to the health point here, but the medicine did not stop the diarrhoea,” Ferial added. “Today, the volunteers came and explained to us how to sterilize water before drinking or using it. They also gave us information about the cholera.”
Significant numbers of Syrian families continue to reside in overcrowded displacement sites, especially in northern Syria. When access to water is limited and good sanitation is not available, the risk of disease outbreaks and spread of diseases increases.
Poor water quality tends to lead to more waterborne diseases, particularly among children. When children get sick and their immune system weakens, they become more susceptible to malnutrition. Malnourished children are similarly at heightened risk of getting severely ill. It is a vicious cycle that must be broken.
“Being able to support the most vulnerable people in a community is the reason why I became a volunteer,” said 27-year-old Khdija. She is one of the UNICEF -supported volunteers working in the informal settlement.
“Being able to support the most vulnerable people in a community is the reason why I became a volunteer.”
“As volunteers, we can help to reduce the spread of cholera and I want to play an active role in my community and do all I can to protect my community from the disease,” she added. “During our tent-to-tent visits, we noticed that most people do not have information about cholera. Together with my colleagues, I’m working hard to give them the right information and advice on prevention measures,” Khdija explained.
Since the first cholera cases were confirmed in Hasakah and Al-Raqqah governorates in northeast Syria, UNICEF started mobilizing community volunteers; training healthcare workers on cholera prevention measures and messaging, testing chlorine levels with water pool tester and using aqua tabs on household level.
By 21 September 2022, the organization had reached approximately 25,000 people in the two governorates with awareness raising activities, including home visits, meetings with community leaders, counseling sessions with caregivers, and recreational sessions with children. Key messages had similarly been disseminated through WhatsApp groups and Facebook pages and in more than 450 mosques.
To keep children safe, UNICEF continues to invest in preventive measures and scale up a rapid response to curb the spread of the disease and limit its negative impacts. More funding is needed to halt the outbreak and prevent loss of life.