New health clinic for the poorest of the poor [Archives:2005/823/Health]

March 10 2005

By Peter Willems
Yemen Times Staff

A new health clinic opened last week in the largest shanty community in Sana'a where some of the most marginalized groups live without many basic necessities.

The three-year project, funded by the Millennium Relief and Development Services and the British Embassy, aims to improve the health conditions and empower the people in the Greedome community to run the clinic while the project runs its course.

“This is an ignored community,” said Dennis Cox, Country Leader of Millennium. “Our intention is to be here for three years, train them and they will take responsibility for their health. Part of the process is for them to think in terms of “We're responsible for our health,” not from just donations from others. If we can get that lesson communicated, it will be a success.”

Dar Al-Ta'am, the local non-government organization (NGO) that was established in 2002 by the people in the area, is the owner of the new clinic – called Choice Clinic – while Millennium provides technical consultancy. Richard Bramble is the doctor of Millennium responsible for medical care and Benjamin Saeli is in charge of training. Six men and eight women from the community are now being trained as health workers who will be responsible for basic medical care, vaccinations, delivering medicine, nursing, administration, record keeping and book keeping.

“We are technical consultants taking on many responsibilities at the beginning, but a year from now we hope to be doing very little and only consultants on the side,” said Saeli. “This is empowerment.”

Along with training, the project provides medical services and medicine at reasonable prices and schedules vaccinations on regular intervals. The community is learning how to create and maintain “kitchen gardens,” so that they can produce their own vegetables which provide much needed nutrition. A campaign on cleanliness, both within the homes and in the community at large, is on the way, and a major focus is on measures to prevent common illnesses.

“We are aiming a great deal on prevention,” said Saeli. “We don't want people to always have to come to the clinic. We want them to be healthy so they don't have to come for treatment. Ninety percent of our work is raising awareness, training and preventative health practices.”

The Millennium Relief and Development Service is based in Houston, Texas. It is a network of international development centers operating in many countries worldwide. It works on health and social services, micro-economic development, education, disaster relief and assistance and consulting services.

Bramble said that numerous projects to aid the poorest groups in Africa and the Middle East often fail, which has geared the project in Sana'a to get the people to take part.

“We from Millennium are only technical consultants to set up the clinic and get it rolling,” said Bramble. “Dar Al-Ta'am is doing everything while we are consultants. One of the reasons projects fail is the lack of participation from the beginning, which is why we have the local NGO seriously involved in the project. For example, it carries out financial responsibility and executive decision making so that the project will be sustainable in the long run.”

The marginalized group, considered the poorest in Yemen, has been shunned by mainstream society for hundreds of years, and most still live in shanty neighborhoods with a half dozen in the capital.

According to a study carried out by the United Nations Children's Fund in the late 1990's, the population was roughly 200,000 in Yemen. Although the government has provided electricity and better water, most of the communities still lack facilities for basic needs, such as sewage systems and access to health care.

“It is good that we now have a clinic in our area,” said Aziza Mansour, one of the 5,000 living in Greendome. “It is better that prices are more affordable for treatment and medicine, and the training will help us a lot so that we will be in charge of our own health care.”

Within the plan, those who are trained to be health workers will take their knowledge and train others in other shanty communities in Sana'a, such as Bab Al-Yemen and Asser Al-Kasara.

“Training is a better investment than just offering assistance,” said Najeeb Ghanem, Chairman of Health and Population Committee in Yemen's Parliament. “This is proven to be sustainable development. It is the integration approach in which the government, society and NGOs work together for health. I hope that the people are no longer marginalized, and I want them to be fully integrated. The clinic is one step taken to help them not to be marginalized in the future.”