|Yemen is one of the poorest countries in the Middle East and North Africa region (MENA), as evidenced by education and health indicators. In recent years, government strategies have been geared toward advancing health and education within the scope of poverty reduction efforts and realizing Millennium Development Goals.
Schistosomiasis is a worm infection, associated in Yemen with water sources in the most densely populated mountainous areas. Until recently, efforts to eliminate the disease have been partially successful. However, signs of progress are beginning to show as a result of innovative approaches that the Yemeni government has launched with multi-donor support.
The change in vision was triggered by recognition that education and health goals are closely linked. “The Minister of Education recognized that providing education for children meant making sure children were healthy enough to go to school,” said Ayesha Vawda, Senior Education Specialist, MNSHD. “In many parts of Yemen, schools are built on top of the mountains. When Yemeni children go to school they often have a hike in front of them. And while it's true in any country that children who are healthy are more likely to attend school, this is particularly true in the case of Yemen” she added.
Working in collaboration with the Ministry of Health, a joint school-based health program was introduced for the first time in Yemen. A joint technical committee between health and education was established to collect data and information needed in order to plan an effective program, and this cross-sectoral plan was endorsed by a joint decree launching a broad initiative to improve health and education among children.
A number of health problems facing children were identified by the committee and, priority was given to Schistosomiasis. “From a broader health perspective, a Schistosomiasis campaign focusing on children made good sense because school children have the highest level of infection. So by treating the school children in schools you can actually reduce transmission in the whole community,” Donald Bundy, Lead Specialist in Education, HDNED.
When development partnerships can make a difference
For many years, the Ministry of Health had received technical assistance from the World Health Organization (WHO) on how to address Schistosomiasis. WHO recommendations included using schools as delivery outlets for anti-Schistosomiasis drugs, as part of a health and hygiene education program. According to Donald Bundy, “the new level of cooperation between the two ministries, created an environment where such a program would be much more effective”.
Upon the request of Yemen and in coordination with the WHO, the World Bank agreed to extend resources to scale up the program and ensure that Schistosomiasis maintains its priority in the development policy dialogue. The environment that this partnership created is now paving the way for further inter-ministerial collaboration and its success should eventually lead to wider health efforts such as malaria control.
Collaboration and Cooperation
Currently WHO and the World Bank are working collaboratively with Yemeni ministries and moving forward in planning the program. In February 2008 a joint agreement between the two ministries and the WHO was signed to provide Schistosomiasis medicine using the resources of the World Bank health project, for the Schistosomiasis campaign in 2008. In addition, resources from the Education for All – Fast track Initiative (EFA-FTI) grant, managed by the World Bank, are being used to support the development of the school health program that underpins the joint action by health and education against Schistosomiasis.
This year's campaign added a new planning feature to its design. “One of the key contributions to the program was developing a School Health and Nutrition Atlas. Using GIS technology, the atlas maps the location of schools, the surrounding environment, health centers, and villages where diseases are most prevalent- enhancing the ability of health and education professionals to work together to help people most in need of services or treatment “ said Donald Bundy.
The policy dialogue in Yemen on Schistosomiasis as a health and education priority has progressed. In March 2008, the Director General of WHO participated in launching the National Schistosomiasis Program celebrating the partnership with the Ministries of Health and Education and the World Bank. The World Bank team is currently preparing a new project to leverage resources in support of the program which will also receive technical assistance from WHO.
Launching the program is a major step in advancing efforts to eliminate Schistosomiasis. According to Donald Bundy, “we could not have come this far without the national ownership, collaboration between the ministers of education and health and their staff commitment. The technical and financial resources and experience that WHO and the World Bank team contributed exemplify how partnerships in development can make a difference”