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Female religious leaders keep vulnerable populations safe from cholera in Yemen

Ola Al Shawafi and Amriyah Al Moalimi, two “Morshydats”, leading a cholera prevention session with children in Al-Hasabah area, one of the cholera high-risk areas of Sana’a.
©UNICEF Yemen/2019/Mona Adel

By Majd Aljunaid and Marie Bracquemont, UNICEF Yemen

Sana’a, Yemen, 24 June 2019 – Even during the month of Ramadan, Amriyah Al Moalimi and Ola Al Shawafi continued to work tirelessly. For these two religious leaders, called also “Morshydats” in Yemen, the time doesn’t stop when it comes to cholera. Every day, from early morning until sunset, the two women go to meet children and families living in cholera high-risk areas of Sana’a and Amanat Al Asimah governorates.

"My role is to educate people about how to recognize signs of a cholera infection and how to protect themselves against this disease, while sending a religious and humanitarian message of hope to the community," says Amriyah, who is regularly organising sessions in religious centers, where mothers can learn about safe water and hygiene practices to keep their children healthy. “We educate the women about handwashing, good hygiene habits and how to prepare and cook food so that they don’t get sick,” continues Amriyah.

Amriyah show women how to properly wash their hands with soap, after any daily activity and before preparing food, at an educational religious centre in Sana'a. ©UNICEF Yemen/2019/Mona Adel

Two years after Yemen faced the world’s largest outbreak of acute watery diarrhoea/cholera, vulnerable populations, in particular marginalized and displaced communities, remain at risk. Since the beginning of the year, 300,000 recorded suspected cholera cases, with 500 associated deaths.

Umm Mohammed attended a cholera prevention session at the religious centre of Sana’a during Ramadan. “Now I know the cholera symptoms and the importance of cleaning the vegetables before cooking them. I also learned how to prepare the Oral Rehydration Salts in my home for my family.”
©UNICEF Yemen/2019/Mona Adel

As part of an integrated cholera response, UNICEF is providing critical support to populations at high risk of cholera in 38 high-priority districts of both Sana’a and Amanat Al Asimah governorates, through sanitation and hygiene messaging, training of community volunteers and community-based awareness campaigns and events.

The “Morshydats” educating communities of Al-Hasabah about hygiene practices.

©UNICEF Yemen/2019/Mona Adel

"Cholera is a serious disease and it should be treated rapidly as it can lead to death. I teach communities how to prepare Oral Rehydration Salts through my awareness sessions,” says Ola. The 32-year-old woman has been trained as a UNICEF community volunteer and is now actively spreading cholera prevention messages. "We target the streets and households of affected districts and where there is a suspected case of cholera recorded, we organized awareness sessions for the entire neighborhood," Ola adds.

Ola is a communication for development volunteer. She regularly takes part in the educational activities of the “Morshydat” teams and show the people how to use Oral Rehydration Salts, in case of illness.
©UNICEF Yemen/2019/Mona Adel

Over one million children and caregivers have been reached with cholera lifesaving vaccine last April, during an Oral Cholera Vaccination Campaign organised in Amanat Al Asimah, with support of UNICEF.
©UNICEF Yemen/2019/Mona Adel

Although the health situation has gotten worse in the first months of this year, Amriyah and Ola still hope that their country will one day be cholera-free. "I hope to live in peace and to see a disease-free Yemen, now that we know what to do to prevent cholera ", says Amriyah. Ola encourages people to practice good hygiene. “People need right hygiene habits, the house has to remain clean, without any trashes kept inside and this is also a key principle in our religion,” Ola highlights.

These activities are part of a larger integrated UNICEF cholera response, which also includes health activities, such as vaccination campaigns and water, hygiene and sanitation interventions, to eliminate cholera in Yemen. This couldn’t be done without the help of UNICEF contributing partners, such as the Qatar Fund For Development, which is supporting the “Morshydat” activities in Yemen, to provide the children of Yemen with a healthy environment so they can fulfill their potential.

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