With about half of its health facilities defunct due to the protracted war, Yemen is expected to see one of the worst COVID-19 pandemic scenarios in the world. Already considered the world’s largest and worst humanitarian and development crisis, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates more than half of Yemenis will be infected.
As of mid-July, Yemen has announced over 1,500 confirmed cases with high fatality rates in some parts of the country. International organizations say the actual number of cases is likely to be much higher because of COVID-19 testing challenges in the country.
In those functioning health facilities, several health workers are risking their lives as they provide life-saving services for suspected cases in several areas while lacking the simplest personal protective equipment (PPE).
Supported Community Initiatives take the lead
In rural Mabyan district in the northern Hajjah governorate, a group of Village Cooperative Councils (VCCs) has prioritized providing locally produced facemasks and protective suits for medical staff working in 28 COVID-19 isolation and prevention centers and local health facilities to help ensure their safety.
At the beginning of the spread of COVID-19 in Yemen, the VCCs proposed this work to local authorities in Mabyan. Led by the local Women Association directed by Mrs. Afrah Al-Mas-hali, they have since led this initiative together.
The VCCs have mobilized female volunteers to produce nearly 7,500 facemasks and 500 durable protective suits in six centers across six villages. “If people here contract the disease, a disaster will take place," said Mr. Najeeb Al-Watari, Deputy Director of the local Health Office, referring to the densely populated Hajjah province of 3.3 million people.
As the pandemic has spread in other provinces since early April, Al-Watari believes that "the priority is now to monitor and control the entry of suspected cases into the area by raising awareness and equipping the health response centers.” He says that “Our top priority is securing protectives masks and medical suits to allow public awareness campaigners and health staff to perform their work safely.”
The VCCs were formed and trained by the national Social Fund for Development (SFD), which also trained the female volunteers with funding and support from the European Union and the UN Development Programme (UNDP) under the Social Protection for Community Resilience Project (SPCRP).
Senior trainer and supervisor, Ms. Hajar Al-Humaidi, praised SFD and the SPCRP for supporting female members of the community with sewing training, in addition to life skills trainings received in 2019. “There was an urgent need to provide medical staff with facemasks and protective suits as embargo has pushed the prices too high. Additionally, the volunteers were very eager and willing to serve their communities during these exceptional times,” she said.
But the sense of ownership and leadership does not stop at volunteering their time for the medical community. Ms. Abeer Al-Shar’abi, a current mask-making volunteer, has also expressed her willingness and commitment to continue to give her time to train her other female villagers on facemask production for their families.
Mr. Najeeb noted the success of this initiative as a result of SFD’s organized approach and engagement with the Health Office. Because of the coordination, SFD is able to help the women produce accredited PPE in terms of specifications, designs and efficiency which enables the Health Office to quickly receive, disinfect and distribute them according to local needs.
SFD Hajjah’s Director Mr. Hameed Al-Names also commended the success of this initiative and indicated that it sparked a wave of identical initiatives that cover five additional districts of the same governorate under the European Union and other donor funding.
SFD’s Training and Organizational Support Unit manager Mr. Saleh Al-Razhi described these supported health initiatives as the largest initiatives within Tamkeen, SFD Development Empowerment Program, in terms of products’ quantity and geographical coverage. He also spoke of SFD Tamkeen program significant role in helping local communities take their matters into their own hands through the formation of Village Cooperative Councils, building the capacities of elected VCC members and connecting them to their local authorities to empower them achieve resilience and self-sufficiency.
The Social Protection for Community Resilience Project (SPCRP) is funded and supported by the European Union (EU) and implemented in partnership with the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and The Social Fund for Development (SFD). The USD$28 million SPCRP enhances the purchasing capacity of vulnerable communities while restoring community infrastructure and improving access to and delivery of key services through short-term employment, provision of solar energy equipment, rehabilitating healthcare facilities, and building the capacities of communities and local authorities.
Project: Social Protection for Community Resilience
Interv.: Capacity Building
Donor: European Union
IP: Social Fund for Development (SFD)
Gov.: Mabyan District, Hajjah Governorate
SFD-Tamkeen Approach is a Local Development Empowerment Program that mobilizes communities to lead their own development based on their resilience priorities.