Yemeni woman wins InterAction’s Humanitarian of the Year award [Archives:2008/1164/Local News]

June 16 2008

Jamal Al-Najjar
[email protected]

SANA'A, June 15 ) This year, InterAction, a U.S.-based coalition representing more than 165 humanitarian and development nongovernmental organizations working worldwide, presented its annual award for humanitarian work to Yemeni Souad Qassim Saleh, program coordinator of Basic Health Services.

Each year, InterAction recognizes an individual or group who has demonstrated extraordinary leadership in support of NGOs and those they serve in the developing world. The award recognizes those whose work reflects leadership qualities such as initiative, courage, creativity, grace under pressure and personal integrity.

InterAction's annual gala last month honored Saleh's persistent efforts and active contributions to safe motherhood and maternal health care programs in Yemen throughout her career.

Saleh directs the Yemen Basic Health Services program, a three-year project that trains reproductive health professionals and improves the quality of clinics and services offered to women. The program is a project of the Pathfinder International Organization, a reproductive health fund administered by the United States Agency for International Development, or USAID.

A forum of more than 800 leaders from member organizations and NGOs in developing countries, as well as representatives from USAID, the U.S. State Department, the United Nations, the World Bank and other multilateral institutions, chose this year's award recipient.

Saleh gave a speech at the gala depicting the health situation of women in Yemen and the role of midwives in improving reproductive health services. Close to half of all deaths of childbearing- age women in Yemen happen during childbirth, which has the highest maternal mortality rate in the region.

For the past 40 years, Saleh has worked to save women's lives, particularly those in Yemen's most remote areas, by advocating and providing critical maternal health care and family planning services.

She undertook a leadership role in the health field as early as 1975, when she was nominated to head the midwifery and nursing department at Aden's Al-Jumhuriyya Hospital. Following that, she assumed many different positions in the field of midwifery and maternal health care at various institutions nationwide.

In Yemen, which has the highest maternal mortality rate in the Arab world, Saleh's outspoken leadership and commitment to women's health and rights have been critical.

Her tireless efforts over the years ultimately led to creating the Yemeni National Midwives Association in 2004 under the auspices of the Ministry of Public Health and Population.

Since its establishment, the association has increased government support – both financial and moral – for women's health services, in addition to establishing a family planning center for low-income families, which also provides further education for midwives in order to help women throughout Yemen give birth safely. The association's members now number around 1,800.

Saleh joined Pathfinder International in 2004 and leads a program seeking to improve maternal and child health in five of Yemen's most underserved governorates: Amran, Sa'ada, Al-Jawf, Marib and Shabwa.

She leads efforts to train community midwives in rural areas and calls for establishing private midwifery practices at the national level in order to increase access to women's health services in remote areas, as well as women's participation in civil society.

Pathfinder International President Dan Pellegrom stated that both he and his organization were honored to work with and support Saleh, whom he called “an exemplary individual.” He continued, “Ms. Saleh's courage, tenacity and commitment have made a real difference to countless women's lives in Yemen.” Saleh remarked that she was happy to receive the award, noting that it's important for people to encourage, value and support others' efforts. “It's my pleasure to be named InterAction's 2008 Humanitarian of the Year,” she concluded.