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Originally produced for UNICEF

Sadijah’s story

Sajidah Abdallah, Health Worker, Hamdan Clinic, Basra, Southern Iraq

Sajidah was 13 years old and living in Hamdan when the first Gulf War over-ran their lives. Basra was especially hard hit. Under the weight of the war and the sanctions that followed, the economy collapsed. Prices shot through the roof. Families everywhere sold off possessions. People went hungry. Children were malnourished. Schools and health centres fell apart.

“I struggled to complete secondary education,” Sajidah says. “I had already decided that I wanted to become a health worker. By the time I was 19, I was qualified and started work at the local Hamdan Primary Health Care Centre.

“In those days the Hamdan clinic was in bad shape. The roof was leaking. The rooms were cramped and over-crowded. There was no shelter where people could wait for attention and nowhere to carry out health education. The antenatal clinic was held in the same room as vaccinations and oral rehydration therapy that we used to treat children with diarrhoea.

“We were very happy when, in 2001, the Hamdan clinic was selected by UNICEF and the local health authorities for rehabilitation. The new clinic -- which was rebuilt with support from UNICEF and the European Commission Humanitarian Aid Office (ECHO) -- has a spacious waiting and health education area, and sufficient rooms for clients to be properly attended. Because the building is good quality, people respect the health workers more and take our advice more seriously.

“We have room for files for every child, every family, in the Hamdan area. We can see very easily which children are growing well, and who has fallen behind in their immunization schedule. Thanks to the polio campaign, we know where all the children live. We can track them down and make sure every one is protected.”

“Until I was 4 years old I lived in Fao in southern Iraq. It was a beautiful place, with fertile farms and tall palms but the war with Iran made it too dangerous, so my whole family – including uncles, aunts, grandparents, and cousins – fled from there and came to Hamdan. Hamdan is a rural township not far from Basra City and within 20 miles of the border with Kuwait.”

Hannin Abdul Kareem age 5 (left) and her brother, Hossein Abdul Kareem, age 1 year 4 months, shortly after they were vaccinated against polio at the Alawi Qasim Health Centre in Basra, Iraq.