By Saeed Al-Batati*
World Immunization Week 2016 runs from 24-30 April to promote the use of life-saving vaccines for all children – particularly those who are consistently excluded. Almost two-thirds of all unvaccinated infants live in conflict-affected countries, making them vulnerable to life-threatening diseases that are otherwise preventable. UNICEF and its partners are working together to change these numbers and protect a child’s right to survive.
From home to work to rounds to midnight births, Midwife Bamoumen is bringing life-saving care to the children and women of a small district of Mukalla, Yemen. Follow her to find out why she has become a household name.
Ms. Bamoumen is a midwife, and her beat is rushing to the aid of children and women. This woman with the bag has saved countless lives in this tiny district in south-eastern Yemen.
MUKALLA, Yemen (UNICEF) – Entesar Saeed Bamoumen is a household name, here in the Roukeb district of the port city of Mukalla. You’ll see her criss-cross around the streets with her signature medical bag.
A quarter of a century of outreach
For 25 years, Midwife Bamoumen has offered services ranging from vaccination to post-natal care, to teaching women about child healthcare and disease prevention.
Back at home, you’ll find this mother of three caring for her children, plus six children her husband’s late wife bore. During the day, she’ll be at the Roukeb medical centre – from 8 a.m. till 1 p.m.
When it’s busy, such as during vaccination campaigns or a reported spike in diseases like dengue fever, she’ll be working until 6 p.m. The centre was built in the 1960s, but she’s been there for nine years. It offers such services as family planning, pre- and post-natal care, laboratory testing, vaccination and X-rays.
In addition to her regular hours at the clinic, she is making rounds with that bag, dropping in to check up on pregnant women, rushing off to attend to women who go into labour in the middle of the night and cannot reach a doctor.
“I respond to call for help from anyone at any time,” she says, with a smile.
A vaccination champion
During and outside vaccination campaigns, Midwife Bamoumen is a vaccine champion. For example, she is participating in the ongoing immunization campaign against polio, measles and rubella, which is co-funded by UNICEF.
“During these campaigns, I vaccinate as many as 375 children every day,” she says. How does that compare to the average? “During regular days, I vaccinate roughly 40 children who come to the centre on Monday and Wednesday,” she says.
To make sure children are vaccinated, she talks about the importance of immunization to the local women. She’s been known to spread awareness in a roomful of them – even during a delivery. “Shortly after a new baby is born,” she explains.
“I visit its mother to check her health and the baby’s. I usually find many women gathering in the same room. I promote their awareness about vaccination, prenatal healthcare, and symptoms of some disease like dengue fever.”
She thinks that such campaigns along with workshops and posters have yielded great results, as women and men are now turning up in large numbers at the centre seeking vaccination and information to prevent disease.
“In the first days of [this current] campaign, we vaccinated almost 70 per cent of targeted children,” she reports.
Bringing care home
In April 2015, conflict escalated in Mukalla, and all roads to the city’s main maternity hospital were closed. Pregnant women from Roukeb and neighbouring areas turned to the midwife for help.
She did what she does best. “I sometimes received some cases in my house and followed up on them in their houses,” she says.
- Learn more about the humanitarian needs of the children of Yemen
Grappling with shortages
The odds can be stacked against people like Midwife Bamoumen, but she does her best to deliver. Over the past few months, a wave of dengue fever has hit Mukalla and its environs, following a cyclone that ravaged the city in November.
“Charities and the local authority provided us with some drugs for dengue fever,” she says, “but they finished quickly, because of growing cases.”
The shortage is making it difficult to support the growing number of patients who need these drugs immediately.
Indeed, in times of conflict and peace, battling disease requires an armoury of drugs and a steady flow of funds and transportation, which social actors like Midwife Bamoumen find hard to come by.
But, for the people of Mukalla, this midwife has been the answer to many a prayer, reaching the community in her unique way, dashing off each morning with her medical bag of miracles.