CLP Health Specialist Azal Al-Homeiqani, One Woman’s Mission

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Mobile medical unit pursuing Al-Homeiqani’s mission.

During her third year at medical school in Aden, Azal Al-Homeiqani turned the focus of her studies to gynecology. At around 5’6, Azal has a commanding presence, one of someone whose purpose appears solidly defined; a person one does not expect to falter. Yet, she broke down when witnessing her first delivery.

“I realized what my mother had done in bringing me into the world. I was a difficult birth, in those days they did not do C-sections, so they had to use a vacuum. When I got home that evening, I kissed my mother. I think giving birth is the biggest thing, it can’t be believed,” said Azal, though she herself has put off childbearing until her husband completes his PhD.

We are seated in the garden of the Mokhr Bahn, an upscale café in Sana’a’s Hadda neighborhood. Behind us a woman and her preteen daughter take off their shoes and face mecca to pray – this is the real Yemen. With her head covered in a colorful striped scarf and dressed in the loose black abaya that most Yemeni women wear, Azal hardly stands out from the crowd. But when she speaks her large brown eyes light up and hints at the determination within her and one realizes how first impressions can be deceiving.

“In my family, I was equal to my brothers. But when I grew, I had to face society, it was a different situation. Some think that I walk and talk like a man,” Azal said. “Some women friends tell me that I have the personality of a man. Women should be quiet, dependable and they cannot travel without a brother or male relative. But, My mother always told me that if you do the right thing, then don’t worry about others’ opinion.”

In Yemen’s social and cultural landscape, tradition reigns, a tradition that is hardly beneficial to women. Veiled and covered from head to foot with only their eyes being visible, women are often marginalized. They are not allowed to travel outside of the country without a male relative. For the most part, they cannot inherit property.

Azal is now a medical doctor in gynecology-obstetrics with a Master’s in Public Health and is anything but traditional. Even her name is unusual. The name ‘Abdulah’ is a name usually only given to male children. “My father supported women. I am his first child, Abdul is a name given to males. My father said Azal is my first born and it was his pleasure to call me Abdul-Azal, he didn’t differentiate between me and my brothers.” She is also the Health Specialist for the Community Livelihoods Program, a USAID funded multi-sectoral project that is helping to decrease the maternal death rate through its health sector.

She says wryly that she got her Master’s before her husband something most men would not accept. “I prepared my Masters before my husband did, he told me go ahead because he was then too busy to attend school, another man would fear to have a better educated wife. Some men are afraid to marry an educated wife, so they marry a child of 16 or 18.”

Fortunate to have been born into a progressive family, Azal says she knew that she would pursue medicine since she was 5-years old. “I always wanted to help others, I was a leader in my class, in my studies and my mother helped women all her life. I chose OBGYN because of our situation, I know the women in my country are suffering; this is the same cause that led me away from practicing OBGYN and to embrace Public Health,” said Azal.

Accordingly, Azal left the gynecology-obstetrics field to pursue a career in public health because she says that working as an OBGYN, she found that she could only help 50% of the women who came to her. “The other 50% come too late to be helped, because we lack facilities, limitation in resources and I realized if I started from education, raising awareness, creating prevention strategies we can help 100% — public health, I thought, is the right direction, it’s prevention, especially for women.”

The statistics alone tell the tale of Yemen’s maternal mortality rate. Approximately eight women die per day there during child birth. “It’s a crime,” says Azal. “When I look at my life I am on a mission, it may be an impossible mission but it’s my mission. I have a label on my desk that says eight women die a day, to remind me it’s important my mission, it’s very important.”

Azal joined CLP in January and says it’s a change from previous NGOs for which she has worked. CLP she adds is providing an opportunity to help Yemen, “especially since its implementer Creative is a strong company with systems, the work is smooth. Also, CLP is changing in a good way – I like the new Grants Management System, which provides information seamlessly, fast and can help us to follow a grant.”

“CLP as a project is huge – if we continue in the same way we are going with our activities, then we can make a lot of progress; it will be a big step for the country of Yemen. During the country’s transition we need a multi-sector approach – other projects focus on one sector. In the long-term, CLP will have lots of success. For example, in Marib there is not just a problem in health, it is also in economics, agriculture and education. If a project approaches problems focusing on only one sector, how can it give medical help without awareness raising and education so that individuals know the importance of services. After all, people will look for food before going to the pharmacy.”

Along with launching a measles campaign to avert an epidemic that is on the verge of spreading throughout Yemen, the CLP Health Sector also funds Mobile Medical Units which provide assistance to mothers and young children in remote areas of the country which have no access to medical care. The lack of access to quality medical care is one reason the maternal fatality rate remains high. The project also trains midwives. “With 60 midwives for each district, we can potentially help 50,000 to 80,000 women and save them from dying and this is in less than one year, that’s a result!”

Overall says Azal, “I want to do more but no one can change the world in one day; the way is to go is step by step. It’s a mission, especially since my country vacillates, for two years things are ok, then they are not. This is our situation. I could go to another country, Gulf countries, I can work easily there, but if everyone goes out of the country than who will stay behind.”

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