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Ishraq, a Community Health Volunteer: Breaking the fear barrier in communities

Ishraq during the community health volunteer training conducted last month in Sana’a.

Sana’a, Yemen, 3 December 2018 – One out of three children in Yemen, approximately 1.8 million, and one out of five pregnant and lactating mothers are at risk of acute malnutrition. In addition, nearly 400,000 children are suffering from Severe Acute malnutrition (SAM). A child with SAM is 12 times more at risk of death than a healthy child. This situation is worsening with the current economic crisis exacerbated by the conflict across the country, which caused fluctuation in the currency, disruption of markets and escalation of prices of basic goods and diminished purchasing power of the population.

In some efforts to provide the most vulnerable people in Yemen with access to basic health services, UNICEF, together with the local authorities and partners, is supporting networks of community health volunteers. These women coming from rural areas are receiving a comprehensive training on malnutrition prevention and response and community health before going back to their villages where they play a vital role in linking their communities with health services in the area.

Hana’a and Ishraq have recently completed their community health volunteer training in Manakha district of Sana’a governorate and these are their stories.

Ishraq is a dynamic 28-year-old woman who has been volunteering in Manakha district of Sana’a governorate for some years now, despite the difficulties for women to do any kind of work in the area. “I have been heavily criticized by some villagers for working as a community health worker and working closely with men colleagues, but this doesn’t stop me from achieving my goal,” Ishraq explains.

For Ishraq, the main goal is to break the fear barrier in her community and she works hard to raise awareness among women about health and hygiene practices. “I carry out regular household visits to sensitize the people about the risks of epidemic and parasitic diseases, such as cholera and schistosomiasis, and how to prevent them from spreading,” says Ishraq.

A trainee and the instructor analyzing a growth chart during the community health volunteer training.

Every day, Ishraq walks for about three hours to reach the houses scattered across the mountains. "It is not an easy walk, especially when the sun is high or the rain is pouring. Some villages cannot even be reached by car, but I am always thinking of the children and the women at risk of death who need my help,” Ishraq says.

Ishraq began to volunteer in December 2017 and she completed several training courses in the field of community health. She gained enough skills and knowledge to disseminate messages to communities about health and disease prevention, to provide pregnant women with guidance and support, to raise the awareness of the residents about the importance of vaccination and to distribute medicines and micronutrient supplementation to children and their mothers.

Thanks to her efforts, Ishraq succeeded to change misperceptions about health issues among some families. She also identified and referred several cases of malnutrition in her village and neighboring areas. "I am following 57 malnourished children and visit them every two days to evaluate their health status and provide them with food supplements from the UNICEF-supported health center. Many parents cannot afford to go to the health facility because of the long distance and the lack of money. Four children are in a stable condition now while the other are still suffering from complications of severe acute malnutrition due to the deterioration of their families’ living conditions,” Ishraq underlines.

Ishraq with her six-year-old daughter at the local health facility in Manakha district, Sana’a governorate.

Ishraq also educates mothers on how to prepare food appropriately for their children. "I usually feel embarrassed when I show the mothers how to cook food in a safe way for their children since these families don’t have food at all. Some of them eat only once a day and I often see children crying of hunger," she says. Despite all these difficulties, Ishraq feels that her role has a purpose when she succeeds to convince parents to vaccinate their children or to get them treated in the nearest health centre and in these moments, she feels like nothing will stop her from accomplishing her task and saving more lives.

Community health volunteers are trained by the local health authorities with the support of UNICEF, and play a key role in raising awareness among communities about cholera and malnutrition prevention and response. This activity has been implemented thanks to the contribution of the Kuwait Fund for Arabic Development (The Kuwait Fund). Kuwait has been supporting UNICEF in Yemen for the last three years in the sectors of health and nutrition to save children lives across the country and give them a chance to reach their full potential in health and well-being.



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