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Meet the volunteers battling cholera in Yemen

Photo: A Yemeni child, suspected of being infected with cholera, receives treatment at a hospital in Yemen.

 

Al Mukalla: They move from house to house carrying pamphlets and hygiene materials.In war-torn Yemen, community volunteers are on the forefront in the battle against the spread of diseases in Yemen.

In the south-eastern province of Hadramout, health authorities reply on teachers and students to help spread awareness about cholera, dengue fever and malaria.

 

Abdul Fatah Al Obathani, a 30-year-old volunteer, travels around the province—from urban cities to rural countrysides—educating citizens about these diseases.

“I enjoy my work very much as I ease people’s suffering,” he told Gulf News.

After conducting a successful anti-cholera campaign in Al Mukalla, Al Obathani, traveled to remote villages in the Hadramout and Shabwa provinces.

He has a degree in family health from a local university, but has been unemployed since graduating from college in 2014.

During the current unprecedented outbreak of cholera in Yemen, nearly 700,000 cases and 2,090 deaths have been recorded in most provinces of the war-ravaged country according to World Health Organisation.

In Yemen’s province of Hadramout, health authorities were put on high alert last month when several cases were recorded in destitute areas west of the city of Al Mukalla.

To prevent the disease from reaching densely-populated cities in the province, health officials drummed up support from local volunteers who took part in previous campaigns.

During the Al Qaida reign of Al Mukalla in 2015, an outbreak of dengue fever killed 22 people in one month in the coastal parts of Hadramout.

Deaths dropped from 22 to 3 after collective efforts of volunteers, health authorities and local officials to stem the spread of the disease.

“We managed to form a strong defensive wall that protected the city of Al Mukalla from the disease.” Al Obathani said.

In Yemen’s conservative society, men are not allowed to visit females—who are not relatives—in their houses.

To address this issue, female volunteers were assigned to educate women on cholera and other diseases.

Twenty-five-year-old Warda Awadh, another volunteer from the city of Al Mukalla, braves the scorching heat while going door to door convincing families to vaccinate their children against cholera.

She says its difficult, sometimes, to convince people that such vaccines are necessary, but over the course of her experience she has perfected her persuasion techniques.

“If a family refuses to let us in, we leave soap and pamphlets outside the door,” she told Gulf News.

“Luckily through the power of social media, television and radio, awareness is improving across the country.”

Recently it was reported that cholera cases have been completely eradicated in Hadramout.

According to Al Kaldi, the director of the health education department at the ministry of health in Hadramout, the volunteers deserve much of the credit.

“They form the pillar of our cholera eradication campaigns as well as during natural disasters,” he told Gulf News.

Yemen’s cholera epidemic, currently the largest in the world, has spread rapidly due to deteriorating hygiene and sanitation conditions, as well as disruptions to the water supply across the country.

Millions of people are cut off from clean water, and waste collection has ceased in major cities.

“Yemen’s health workers are operating in impossible conditions,” said WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

More than half of all health facilities are closed due to damage, destruction or lack of funds, shortages in medicines and supplies persistent and widespread, and 30,000 critical health workers have not been paid salaries in nearly a year.

The World Health Organisation will next month launch a strategy to stop cholera transmission by 2030.

In Yemen, the most explosive outbreak on record has caused 686,783 suspected cases and 2,090 deaths since late April. The number of deaths has slowed but the spread of disease has not: in the past week there were 40,000 suspected cases, the most for seven weeks.

Legros said it was impossible to predict how any outbreak would evolve, but Yemen’s was likely to continue for a long time. The low death rate suggested the outbreak was not severe, although there may be many uncounted deaths in the community.Gulf News

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