Life and death amidst a pandemic

Without these great heroes in the health sector in Yemen, UNICEF’s wouldn’t be able to reach children and mothers in the most harsh and remote areas in the country

Ali Qasim
Coronavirus didn’t stop Yemeni health workers from continuing to provide health services to pregnant women and children who suffer from malnutrition.
UNICEF/2020/Mahmoud Al-Falsatiny
02 July 2020

Habeel Hanash Health Centre is located at the border of Al-Musaimeer in Lahj governorate southern Yemen. The centre is in the middle of a frontline. Although it feels like death is everywhere, the health centre continues to save lives.

With the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) in Yemen, the centre faces even greater obstacles toward providing health services in remote and underserved areas. It is at least three hours away from the district's capital, on a rugged mountainous road.

"We are still providing our services, but with more caution, fearing coronavirus infection," says Jalila Abbas Saleh, a 31-year-old mother of four, who works as a volunteer midwife at Habeel Hanash Health Centre. She further explains, "We refused to close down at this critical time when the community needs us the most. We decided to continue to raise people's awareness about coronavirus."

"We refused to close down at this critical time when the community needs us the most. We decided to continue to raise people's awareness about coronavirus."

said Jalila, a brave Yemeni Health worker
A health worker providing health treatment in Yemen
UNICEF/2020/Mahmoud Al-Falsatiny
Jalila Continuing her work bravely during COVID-19 pandemic with applying adequate preventive measures

Habeel Hanash Health Centre provides basic health services including obstetrics, nutrition, and child health care. All staff are keen to not only fulfil their patient care duty, but also to raise awareness about COVID-19 and how to protect themselves. The midwife Jalila explains, "We make sure that everyone is informed of the importance of applying all the necessary measures including social distancing, regular sterilization, hand washing with soap and water, and wearing gloves and facemasks as well."

The staff do not just place emphasis on educating people visiting the centre, but they travel out to the community, where people gather, to stress the importance of social distancing and avoiding wedding gatherings. Jalila says, "People have been very cooperative. Wedding gatherings have stopped, and verbal greetings have been in place instead of handshake because everyone is really afraid of coronavirus."

"My attention to pregnant and lactating women continues unchanged despite the risks and fear for ourselves. I continue to advise them on the need to change their lifestyle and to focus on caring for their children's health by applying COVID-19 prevention measures," she adds.

It takes the midwife Jalila an hour to cross through a twisted mountainous road to reach the Health Centre. As she says, she only starts working after she puts on her gloves and facemask, she also makes sure that patients maintain adequate distance to prevent transmission of the infection. She works in the centre from the early morning until 2pm when she then returns home for some domestic chores. After her housework is done, she goes to do some awareness raising in the community with her neighbours and people who cannot attend the centre. "I show pregnant and lactating women how to take care of their babies and advise them not to go out unless for the necessary needs in order to limit the spread of coronavirus. I also urge them not to allow their children to play outside the house," says Jalila. “We trust that everything is in God's hands, but we still should do whatever we can, and apply these lifesaving measures.”

Jalila who works as a midwife walks across mountains for hours to assist vulnerable pregnant women
UNICEF/2020/Mahmoud Al-Falsatiny
Jalila who works as a midwife walks across mountains for hours to assist vulnerable pregnant women who are in dire need for health services in remote areas in Lahj.

Thanks to our vital partners the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (the King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Centre) and UAE AID through IMDAD fund who continue to support UNICEF to reach every corner in Yemen with lifesaving Health & Nutrition services.

The Health Centre suffers from lack of protective equipment, but the staff are trying as much as possible to comply with wearing personal protective equipment (PPE). It also suffers from a lack of medical supplies. Jalila says, "I hope that medicines for pregnant women would be made available in the Health Center, for there are cases that we have to refer to other centers as we cannot perform some birth delivery operations due to lack some essential medicines." She passionately adds, "We want to serve our homeland through contributing to providing health care services to the pregnant women and lactating mothers, and to keeping children healthy."

Jalila, while attending her duties in Habeel Hanash Health Center
UNICEF/2020/Mahmoud Al-Falsatiny
Jalila, while attending her duties in Habeel Hanash Health Center trying to assist her community to stay healthy and survive the diseases in every possible way she could.

"Working in these remote areas is harsh and challenging, but we strive to persist for the sake of our homeland, and to serve our community. We all go through these difficult circumstances, and I cannot give up on providing the treatment and care for the people in my area. I also keep raising their awareness of any disease that may affect them," says Jalila. She emphasizes, that "continuing to raise public awareness means more people would positively respond."

Jalila continues her humanitarian work despite the daily challenges brought by conflict and COVID-19 to Yemen.

She is a lifeline for many vulnerable people who are unable to protect themselves, and for those who lack enough knowledge about coronavirus. "Our love for our homeland, and for our people in these areas, is the driving force that pushes us to live up to being 'The White Army'; the label attached to us," the midwife says with overwhelming love.

Without these great heroes in the health sector in Yemen, UNICEF’s wouldn’t be able to reach children and mothers in very harsh and remote areas in the country. With all the uncertainty and anxiety that COVID-19 brought to the world, Yemeni health workers like Jalila continue to risk their lives in order to reach the most vulnerable mothers and children and do their utmost to save their lives. Thanks to our vital partners the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (the King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Centre) and UAE AID through IMDAD fund who continue to support UNICEF to reach every corner in Yemen with lifesaving Health services.