Involving religious and community leaders in addressing cholera

One of the most successful activities of UNICEF’s Communication for Development interventions is the engagement with community leaders, and particularly with religious leaders in the cholera-affected districts.

Marie Bracquemont, and Abdulkhaliq Zainah
UNICEF Yemen/2019/Mohammed
27 May 2019

Sana’a, Yemen, 27 May 2019 – His deep voice fills the mosque and reaches the audience, sitting quietly on the colorful mats on this day of Jumma or Friday prayers at Al-Ansar Mosque of As Sabain district, Amanat Al Asimah governorate. "I have lost the most precious person in my life, my father, because of cholera,” states Ahmed Nasser Al-Moayaed in a tone filled with grief and pain as he leads worshippers in prayer. “And that is why, for the rest of my life, I will always talk about how to prevent this disease and will not rest until it is fully eradicated from Yemen.”

UNICEF Yemen/2019
Imam Ahmed Nasser Al-Moayaed preaching during Friday prayers at Al-Ansar Mosque, Amanat Al Asimah governorate.

Ahmed Al-Moayaed is an Imam and a respected figure in his community. Since he has completed a UNICEF-supported training on cholera prevention, he spreads lifesaving messages during his sermons, so the members of his khatib know how to protect themselves against cholera and other preventable diseases and outbreaks.

UNICEF Yemen/2019
During the Friday prayers, the worshipers can receive lifesaving cholera prevention messages to keep themselves and their families protected from the disease.

In times of conflict, preventable diseases can be deadly, and epidemics can have a devastating impact on the health situation of the population, already suffering from the lack of health services and from inadequate water, hygiene and sanitation infrastructure, increasing the risk of diseases. This is the case of Yemen which has since 2017 seen the world’s largest outbreak of acute watery diarrhoea and cholera. There have been almost 300,000 recorded suspected cholera cases in 21 of the 23 governorates across the country, with 500 associated deaths since January 2019. Children still represent more than a quarter of total suspected cases.

UNICEF Yemen/2019/Fadhel
Community volunteers sensitizing women in Aden during the nationwide Measles and Rubella campaign of February 2019.

As like other preventable diseases, cholera and acute watery diarrhoea can be prevent and easily treated. As part of the integrated response to cholera, UNICEF works closely with local authorities and partners to engage with affected communities and build their resilience.

One of the most successful activities of UNICEF’s Communication for Development interventions is the engagement with community leaders, and particularly with religious leaders in the cholera-affected districts. Imams, as Ahmed Al-Moayaed, and Morshydat, female religious leaders, are being trained on communication skills, behavior change and community engagement techniques, to empower communities about cholera prevention, detection and response.

After receiving an intensive training and with the support of UNICEF partners on the ground, the religious leaders have the necessary knowledge and skills to address the concerns of t community members, to dialogue with them on the best hygiene practices to adopt and to deliver evidence-based information on the importance of vaccination.

UNICEF Yemen/2019/Obadi
Preachers from Al Hudaydah participating in a training on cholera prevention and response in Sana’a.

In Yemen, UNICEF’s cholera response is funded by various partners, including the Qatar Fund For Development, which is committed to addressing the humanitarian needs from this public health threat and to make sure the children of Yemen can grow in health and fulfill their full potential, by building the capacity of health workers to respond to suspected cholera cases, providing operational assistance for the response and encouraging behavior change to support the prevention and treatment of cholera.

Since September 2018, more than 5,400 religious leaders including 1,060 Morshydat have taken part in UNICEF cholera prevention activities in 162 districts across 15 governorates, delivering more than 15,000 talks in mosques and leading 29,000 meetings to address cholera awareness in mosques, religious centers, schools and clinics and reaching a total of 4 million people, including 800,000 children.