Transforming Lives: Empowering Communities through Maternal and Child Health Initiatives in Yemen

August 18th, 2023 | Story


In the midst of the ongoing conflict and humanitarian crisis in Yemen, the USAID-funded Systems Health and Resiliency Project (SHARP), led by JSI, made significant strides in a health emergency context over the past four years. By focusing on maternal and child health services in 14 districts—especially hard-to-reach communities—in Aden, Ta’izz, and Lahj governments, SHARP touched the lives of more than 1.8 million Yemeni people with activities to improve their health. Through an integrated health systems strengthening approach tailored to the unpredictable environment in Yemen due to the conflict and other disasters, the project trained and partnered with community midwives, reproductive health volunteers, health facility workers, and community members in facilities, schools, homes, mosques, and other communal spaces to provide essential health care and support.

This work was presented during a project learning event in Aden on August 17. The event convened stakeholders, including Dr. Salim Al-Shabahi, deputy minister for the population sector from the Ministry of Public Health and Population, and Kimberlee Bell, the USAID Yemen country director, to celebrate and share valuable insights.

Eric Ogara, chief of party of the Systems, Health and Resiliency Project, welcomes guests to the event during his opening remarks. Photo by VFX Aden

Throughout its implementation, SHARP worked with communities, health facilities, the Ministry of Public Health and Population, local authorities, and partners National Yemeni Midwives Association, Yemen Family Care Association, and Search for Common Ground. This collaboration led to the achievement of several milestones:

  • A new approach to kangaroo mother care at the community level (rather than at facilities), helped 105 low birth-weight babies, a significant risk factor for newborn death, live and thrive.
  • 5.7 million Yemenis were reached through social and behavior change initiatives that disseminated crucial information on maternal, newborn, and child health (MNCH), family planning, reproductive health, and nutrition.
  • Local leaders and imans raised nearly 50,000 people’s awareness of health services.
  • Over 14,000 infants received vital immunization against diphtheria, pertussis, and tetanus by the age of 12 months.
  • More than 680,000 people were informed about the COVID-19 vaccine through social media.
  • Over 16,000 cases of diarrhea in children under five were treated.
  • Penta3 vaccination coverage in AI Buraiqa district was boosted by nearly 50% with the help of a pilot SMS reminder system, and the vaccination dropout rate decreased significantly from 42% to 17%.
  • MNCH services at over 64 health facilities were improved through the provision of essential medical equipment based on gaps identified during supportive supervision visits; rehabilitating four health facilities in Aden; and training 114 focal points from 20 health facilities on quality improvement and infection prevention and control.
  • A digitized health management information system pilot-test showed promising results in data quality improvement and informed decision-making.

The project aligned efforts with local health restoration initiatives outlined in the Yemen Humanitarian Response Plan, working closely with USAID and various partners, including local authorities, the Health Cluster, United Nations agencies, and the World Bank. This concerted effort allowed SHARP to reach vulnerable mothers and newborns, despite adversity.

Dr. Salim Al-Shabahi, deputy minister for the population sector from the Yemen Ministry of Public Health and Population, expresses gratitude to USAID and JSI for working together with the Ministry to improve the health sector.
Kimberlee Bell, the USAID Yemen country director, addresses the event guests virtually and acknowledges the project’s achievements. Photos by VFX Aden.

Kimberlee Bell, the USAID Yemen Country Director, acknowledged the achievements of the project’s collaborative efforts with the Ministry of Public Health and Population. “Our project has built a strong partnership with communities, health facilities, districts and governorates to respond to the health needs of the Yemeni population. Local leadership and involvement every step of the way have been the key for sustainability of the project’s work. Health programs and community involvement in southern Yemen are now stronger and more resilient, and communities have better access to quality health care services.

A vital component of SHARP’s legacy was the establishment of conflict resolution committees across nine districts. These committees, comprising community mediators, council representatives, and local leaders, strengthened health system security by swiftly diffusing conflicts that could disrupt health care service delivery.

Khaled Jaber, manager of the governorate health office for Lahj, presents a token of appreciation to the project’s chief of party, Eric Ogara, and the deputy chief of party, Suaad Al-Hetari.
Project staff present their achievements to participants at an exhibition during the event. Photos by VFX Aden.

JSI’s commitment to Yemen since 1988 has advanced child health, routine immunization, supply chain strengthening, and reproductive, maternal, and newborn health. SHARP’s legacy will continue to inspire and transform lives for generations to come.

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