Gender Equality Week Spotlight

September 24, 2021

As Gender Equality Week comes to a close, it is a perfect time for us here at IDRF to reflect on some of the impactful programming we have enacted for women and girls. It is part of IDRF’s mission to first provide emergency relief and humanitarian services to women and girls as they are disproportionately affected by crises. We hope to assist women and girls by increasing access to education, clean water, food, and nutrition. To personalize one of our programs, we turn to a profile of our Yemen nurses programming.

Yemen has faced over five years of continuous war and 80% of the population is in urgent need of humanitarian aid. This amounts to 24.3 million people in need and the situation has only been exacerbated by the Covid-19 crisis. Turning to the June-December Humanitarian Response Plan released by the UN OCHA in June 2020, nearly 18 million people need medical aid; encompassing roughly 60% of the total population.

The Covid-19 crisis has resulted in overburdening already ill-equipped and underfunded healthcare facilities which have been forced to turn patients away. Reports show that eleven governorates were impacted by the pandemic, with only thirty-two operational Covid-19 isolation units across Yemen and seven labs with Covid-19 testing capacity. The Technical Advisory Council of the Hadramout Governorate in Yemen estimates that 40% of the Covid-19 deaths could be prevented if patients received critical healthcare services from respiratory specialists working in the Covid-19 ICUs. There are only eleven qualified respiratory specialists out of the 300 nurses scattered across three hospitals in Mukalla City. This points to the critical staff shortage in the intensive and respiratory care units. These staff shortages will result in more patients being unable to receive proper health care services and the continued increase in preventable deaths.

IDRF’s project in Yemen aimed to address these critical staff shortages by training thirty-three nurse/health practitioners in respiratory therapy training (RT) which included 329 lecture hours covered in 48 days over four months. All program graduates which included 20 males and 13 females are now certified by the Ministry of Health and are recruited as Certified Respiratory Therapists by local health institutions around Mukalla City.

Not only is this training critical for assisting Yemeni women and girls in accessing healthcare services during the Covid-19 crisis, but providing these female nurse/health practitioners with training is key to enriching their academic experiences and promoting their career development. IDRF hopes to increase our funding for this program so we can provide more of this training to more Yemeni women in the future. This training also helps to build confidence and tackle burnout for these medical professionals.

To hear from the stories of real women who have been in the program, we start with Aisha Saleh Abdullah BaDahya who is 25 years old. She worked at the ICU of a hospital dedicated to tackling Covid-19 in Mukalla City. She had grown frustrated within her job as she felt helpless in the face of the initial onset of the pandemic in Yemen. Aisha states, “I faced several challenges before starting this training. I am constantly frustrated working at the hospital, dealing every day with patients that I cannot help”. Aisha’s commentary speaks to a feeling many healthcare professionals feel as they are limited by their access to training and proper healthcare equipment. Aisha continues stating, “After taking this course, I do not feel that helpless anymore. I can help my patients, friends, and family members”. Aisha’s experience speaks to what remarkable changes can occur from just one female nurse/health practitioner undergoing this respiratory training.

After hearing about Aisha’s remarkable journey, we look to another nurse practitioner who underwent IDRF’s RT program. Suzan Mohammed Rabia Ben Obedallah is 30 years old and works as a nurse at a central hospital in Mukalla City. As her hospital mainly dealt with receiving Covid-19 patients, she consistently felt that there was a lack of experienced staff in the Covid-19 Respiratory ICU. Suzan states, “The size of the hospital and the number of patients we are receiving does not match the number of medical staff we have.” After undergoing the training, Suzan felt reinvigorated in her role as a nurse in Mukalla City and went on to manage the first new department for respiratory care in the hospital she worked in. By enabling her access to continuing her passion, the training was able to save more lives and instill Suzan with a newfound confidence in her career.

The outcome of the training project includes a 300% increase in the total number of respiratory therapists in Yemen and increased capacity of five of the major hospitals. However, after reading Aisha and Suzan’s stories, we can see that the outcomes go far beyond the numbers. By allowing these women to specialize in their medical training and feel reinvigorated in their roles at their respective hospitals, we are able to help both the medical staff and their patients simultaneously. We hope with the help of the Canadian community, our donors, and our wonderful local partners, that we can continue this work to help every girl and woman reach their true potential.