By Sarah Ferguson
Yemen's health care system was already crumbling even before the appearance of the novel coronavirus. Economic collapse and food insecurity brought on by more than five years of civil war have left the nation's families struggling to survive.
At the Al-Shab IDP center in Yemen, 350 families driven out of their homes by violence in Taiz and Al Hudaydah are living in cramped quarters. Access to clean water, necessary to prevent disease transmission, is limited. UNICEF and partners have been working in the IDP centers for some time, providing health care and water and sanitation services. After a cholera outbreak in 2017, they mobilized groups of mothers to teach their neighbors how to stay safe. The mother-to-mother (M2M) educators went door-to-door sharing health information and distributing hygiene supplies to help families in the community protect themselves from cholera.
Using the money they earned from their peer educator work, mothers bought sewing machines to make clothes and generate some income. Now, with the spread of COVID-19 around the world, the mothers have mobilized again, sewing masks to help their neighbors stop the spread of the virus. They make up to 100 masks a day and distribute them to families while sharing important messaging about social distancing and handwashing.
"As a member of the mothers' club, I gained great knowledge on how to protect myself, my family and my community from COVID-19," says Umm Ibrahim, a M2M peer educator (above). "I try to spread messages while maintaining social distancing and protective measures. The incentives I gained enabled me to buy a sewing machine for tailoring nice clothes. Now I am also making masks for needy people who cannot afford to buy them."
UNICEF is working to suppress COVID-19 transmission at the community level by reaching 16 million people in Yemen with key prevention messages through TV, radio and social media — and through initiatives like the M2M peer education groups.
While countries around the world are focused on containing the spread of COVID-19, four out of five children in Yemen — more than 12 million — are still in need of urgent humanitarian assistance.