Health Education Saving Lives
UNICEF has made a significant progress towards providing integrated health and nutrition interventions to almost 1 million children under five years and more than 800,000 pregnant and lactating women across the country.
Health education is the bedrock of building a healthy community free from diseases. Despite limited knowledge and misinformation in some areas, ongoing health awareness across Yemen is creating a positive shift in practices among communities.
Noria Ali Saleh Al-Maieni is a 32-year-old working to create positive change. From the village of Al-Maien, Khawlan Fort District, Sana’a; Noria is a community health volunteer (CHV) with Sana’a Governorate Health Office, working to educate the communities around her.
Noria explains the UNICEF supported program: “We provide many services such as nutritional and health education. We take care of pregnant and lactating women (PLW), starting with a balanced diet and supplementary nutrition, emphasizing the importance of breastfeeding. We also mobilize the community to carry out awareness campaigns on the importance of vaccination and routine immunization against deadly diseases such as measles and polio, in addition to education on the prevention of emerging diseases such as cholera and COVID-19.”
Noria also conducts monthly screening of over 60 children for malnutrition in the area and then provide nutritional education, as well as vitamin supplements. She also conducts regular visits among marginalized groups which are a two-hour walk away from the area. Despite the immense positive impact of her work, she faces difficulties due to the lack of records, reports, and shortage of medicines.
At the beginning, Noria was not accepted by the community due to the lack of health education among locals, especially among women who were delivering their babies at home. Among traditional antenatal practices carried out over generations, such as anointing newborns with ghee and sugar syrup, Noria faced initial resistance as she explained the potentially harmful effects of these rituals. The focus was hence turned towards paying attention to allowing a balanced diet and exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months, as well as the awareness on the importance of supplementary feeding, child health, and routine immunization. Pregnant women suffering from moderate acute malnutrition (MAM), are also given folic acid pills, micronutrients, and dewormers to maximize the health of both the mother and the child.
To improve awareness and health, as well as build community trust in medical volunteers, Community Health Volunteers have sought further help from teachers and community leaders, who have influenced the delivery of health awareness and communicated its importance.
Recently, the awareness has also included education on the prevention of COVID-19, the importance of social distancing, not approaching animal waste, washing and sterilizing hands, avoiding hand-shakes, isolating people suspected of infection, and washing vegetables with water and salt.
Jawaher Mohammed Ahmed Munaser, 40 years old, is from the village of Al-Maien, Khawlan District, Sana’a.
Jawaher says, “My daughter was suffering from wasting, and her weight was unsuitable for her age. So, I took her to Noria, who referred her to the health centre. Noria is our reference, and I go to her to get childbirth injections because she was the one who advised me with birth control despite my husband’s rejection. Noria comes to us every month to raise our awareness on the importance of personal hygiene and provide vaccines and nutritional supplements for children with malnutrition.”
Nabila Ali Shaker from Al-Maien village, Bait Shaker’s neighborhood, is another beneficiary of the program.
During a house visit, Noria identified her son with malnutrition and referred them to the health clinic. Nabila says, “I took my son to the health center while I was desperate. Noria gave him nutritional supplements provided by UNICEF. This treatment helped him and I notice that he is improving every day.
“Noria puts our children on the scale to monitor their weight, gives them vaccinations, and nutrition. We also learned from her the importance of hygiene, family planning, and the danger of close births. Her presence in the health center changed a lot in our lives, especially during the outbreak of cholera.”
Noria admits, “Most locals would reject vaccines when they were visited at their homes by the volunteers, and some of them didn’t vaccinate their children even once. We were able to change their perception and they started to bring their children to the center for vaccination. We could also change some bad habits such as hand washing in one pot after eating—now each person washes his hands separately. In addition, many malnutrition cases have been discovered. We then referred them to health centers to monitor their nutritional and health status. Many children have shown improvement in terms of growth and weight.”
UNICEF’s work is hence vital to underdeveloped regions, for the program carried out by over 25,000 community health volunteers across the country. Bringing development through health education, the program results in the reduction of diseases, allowing for longer, healthier lives and ultimately stronger, more productive communities.
Thanks to the generous support from the government of Japan, UNICEF has made a significant progress towards providing integrated health and nutrition interventions to almost 1 million children under five years and more than 800,000 pregnant and lactating women across the country.