By Eissa al-Ragehi
HAJJAH – In the poor village of Jarb in northern Yemen, Ashwaq Mahmoud gives her time and spare cash to provide basic health services that people there could not otherwise reach or afford.
The 23-year-old Mahmoud was trained by the United Nations children’s agency UNICEF as a community health worker after a village elder noticed her helping displaced people fleeing the frontlines of Yemen’s war.
She now offers basic treatments and maternal health, malnutrition and vaccine advice.
“Ashwaq helps us, she does not fall short. She comes to the patient, gives injections, pills, everything. She does not take a penny from us,” said Jumaa Ali Jawhar, also from Jarb in Hajjah province.
Although money is also tight for Mahmoud, her six siblings and two parents, she saved the daily stipend from her two-month UNICEF training to build a small brick room outside the family home.
This became her own mini-clinic.
“There were children and mothers suffering because the hospital is far away. The trip costs around 4,000 riyals ($7). Not all people can afford that return trip and follow-ups,” she said.
In the dirt-floor room she built, tousle-haired youngsters and women now crowd, weighing their toddlers for signs of the hunger that stalks large swathes of Yemen’s children.
“People come and I give them what they need, if I have it. I give them Paracetamol, folic acid, iron. I take malnutrition measurements for children. I refer those with acute malnutrition, diarrhoea, vomiting or fever to hospital,” said Mahmoud, who gets a small monthly wage around $80 from UNICEF.
Mahmoud’s work is not easy.
She walks long distances through fields from house to house to check on families and report back to UNICEF. It is a constant struggle to keep stocks of medical supplies, which she gets from UNICEF, charities and even from her own money.
“A sick child comes, or you visit him, and you see his condition. Of course, the parents want something from you, but I don’t have anything to give them. So I have to refer them (to a health centre), but they don’t have money for transport,” Mahoud said.
Yemen’s six-year-old war has cause a hunger crisis and devastated health services. Rural areas like Mahmoud’s have been hit particularly hard.
UNICEF says around 400,000 Yemen children under age five face severe acute malnutrition and 2.25 million are acutely malnourished.
Noting her efforts, a local medical college in Abs has given her a scholarship to become a medical assistant.
Village resident Ali Hussein thanks God for Mahmoud.
“She serves the community, and we are very proud of her. We also ask organizations and people to support her more,” he said.