“I have worked in a number of countries, but what Eritrea was able to accomplish over the years is amazing. Every success came as a result of the community’s and government’s commitment” – Mr. Ibrahim Sambuli, UNFPA country representative.
BY ASMAIT FUTSUMBRHAN | SHABAIT
The United Nations Fund for Population (UNFPA) activities, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary, has been operating in partnership with Eritrea for 26 years. Its vision centers around ensuring maternal and child health, family planning, HIV and STI prevention services as well as helping in the advancement of gender equality and reproductive rights.
UNFPA in Eritrea has been working closely in alliance with the Eritrean government and community in the reduction of maternal death, fistula prevention and treatment, and youth empowerment. Eritrea is one of the few countries that have been able to tremendously reduce maternal death over the last 28 years.
Today, we talk to Mr. Ibrahim Sambuli, UNFPA representative in Eritrea. Mr. Sambuli has worked in Eritrea for three years. Now that he has been assigned to another country, he did a brief interview with Eritrea Profile regarding UNFPA’s work in Eritrea and his impression of the country.
Q : Thank you for your time, Mr. Ibrahim. Would you please tell us something about UNFPA?
Mr. Ibrahim Sambuli: This year, UNFPA is celebrating its 50th anniversary. The organization was created in 1969, the same year the UN General Assembly declared that parents have the exclusive right to determine freely and responsibly the number and spacing of their children.
Also, UNFPA is marking its 25th year of its ground breaking Programme of Action where every pregnancy is wanted, every child birth is safe and every young person’s potential is realized.
The program of action was adopted by 179 countries at the international conference on Population and Development in Cairo, in 1994.
UNFPA advocates the realization of reproductive rights for all and access to a wide range of sexual and reproductive health services including voluntary family planning, maternal health care and comprehensive sexuality education.
This is where our main focus comes in as a UN agency in Eritrea.
Q : UNFPA in Eritrea has been working in collaboration with the government. What did it include?
UNFPA started collaborating with Eritrea soon after its independence. We have been working in terms of five-year programs. Currently, we are implementing the five-year program the UN and the Government of Eritrea have polished which begun in 2017 and will go on till 2021.
Some of the UNFPA’s main emphases are women and youth empowerment, health, and nutrition. UNFPA classifies its programs in to four components: Sexual and Reproductive Health which concentrates on availability of family planning methods and ensuring access to a full range of reproductive health. In this program, the UNFPA also works for the adolescent health needs which comprises prevention and management of fistula.
In the process of winding up my tour of duty in Picturesque #Eritrea, I was honoured to have Eid-ul Fitr lunch with Colleagues & their Spouses. It was great also to reunite with our young Sister Yodit Mehari who recently quit the "Spinster's Club". Thank you @UnfpaEritrea Family. pic.twitter.com/WyXBB9To60
— Ibrahim Sambuli (@Ib_Sambuli) June 5, 2019
Youth Empowerment is another aspect on which the UNFPA works closely with the government by forming links with the Ministry of Health as well as the National Union of Eritrean Youth and Students. This collaboration makes sure that the youth have access to high quality sexual and reproductive health information and youth-friendly health services, including gender-sensitive HIV prevention.
Another department is Gender Equality and Women Empowerment on which the UNFPA is working very closely with the National Union of Eritrean Women and the Youth Association. The last one is the work the organization has been carrying on in partnership with the Ministry of Development, especially with the National Statics Office. This is where we work with the government on data generation, management and dissemination.
Q : UNFPA’s commitment to work alongside the government in Fistula treatment and Prevention as well as the reduction of mother and child mortality.
Eritrea is one of the few countries that were able to register great achievement in maternal health. On the 2015 millennium goals report, maternal mortality rates diminished from 170 out of 100,000 live births to 352 in 1990.
Infant mortality also dropped from 93 out of 100,000 child births to 34 in 1990. Mortality of children less than five years of age dropped from 151 per 100,000 live births to 47 in 1990. This is an achievement that very few countries are able to accomplish. The Ministry of Health, with all its partners as well as the community’s commitment, was what made it a success.
Besides, UNFPA has been involved in fistula campaigns since 2003. Since every country individually selects a date to commemorate International Fistula Day, the MOH remembered the day on the 11th of June. This is an event when we remind the community that Fistula can be prevented and treated. Its major causes are underage marriage which leads to problems during birth as the body isn’t strong enough to push out a baby. The main challenge of people experiencing Fistula is keeping it to themselves. They are ashamed to go to hospital or tell people about it. We have seen women who had lived with Fistula for almost thirty years. Nonetheless, Eritrea has done well in this department as well. Currently, women are sharing their stories openly and encouraging others to get treated.
Over 1,500 women had successful obstetric fistula surgeries. Those who were still capable of having kids had other kids successfully.
The MOH has worked with great determination regarding the prevention and management of Fistula by providing specialists in Mendefera Hospital so that people from all over the country are assisted. Most of the work is done by Eritrean nationals.
I have worked in a number of countries, but what Eritrea was able to accomplish over the years is amazing. Every success came as a result of the community’s and government’s commitment. Of course, we can provide the resources, technical support, but all means nothing if there is no help from the community. This is something I want to commend — the government, community, all ministries and partners; they have given their hearts to achieve the goals.
Q : Recently, Eritrea has hosted the East African Regional Consultation of youth for peace and security in Africa. What are your thoughts, Mr. Ibrahim?
This is what the UNFPA advocates for, empowerment of young people to go through education and be able to make their own decision. The youth in the region have greatly contributed in nation building and developing themselves which I think is very important.
UNFPA mostly targets the youth and adolescent reproductive health. The youth have to be informed to be in a position to make a responsible decision, to gain confidence to discuss their needs and how they can be involved in planning and implementation of programs with the policy makers.
Q : UNFPA’s future plans in Eritrea.
We have a five-year work frame. UNFPA is already working on the plan that started in 2017, which is going to end in 2021. The organization is going to maintain the consistency of what has already been achieved through the millennium goals. It is planning to expand on working with the different ministries.
UNFPA, alongside the government of Eritrea, is going to work hard in reaching areas which are hard to reach. Also, the organization is helping the MOH to manage their maternity waiting homes. These homes were built by the community to help women from rural areas in delivery close to a hospital where they can be assisted by a professional.
We are also working to set operating station near the maternity waiting homes with the MoH’s HRD office, and we are working together to make sure that they have sufficient equipment with at least one gynecologist, anesthetic and midwives in each of the centers.
Q : Mr. Ibrahim, would you please share with us your impression of the country over the three years you have stayed?
When you look at Eritreans, they give you the true meaning of self-reliance and resilience. In all my interaction, people have given me the best and welcomed me into their homes. Eritreans are friendly and make you feel at home.
Happy to have been joined by the RC @SusanNamondo and one of the great "old hands" in the UN/@UNDPEritrea, the ever "illuminating", Mama Illuminate Maerere from TZ. Asante sana kwa kuhudhuria. pic.twitter.com/1mbPvQaqi5
— Ibrahim Sambuli (@Ib_Sambuli) June 7, 2019
I am being reassigned to another country. However, I will be back to see Asmara and the friends I have made over the years. One of the things that amazes me about the country is its security. I have never been stopped anywhere by anyone. Unlike many countries, here, I was able to walk peacefully any time I wanted. I am grateful to have the experience.
Q : Any last remarks you would like to add before we conclude our interview?
I only have three words. Tell your story!
Eritrea needs to tell its story to the world. It has to show the many good things happening here. The media should highlight all the positive things which are happening in the country. If you light a candle under the table it won’t light up the room. There are many candles lit but they need to be out there. Eritreans need to sell the right image of Eritrea.
People need to know that a country like Eritrea has something to offer. Many things are happening here not because organizations like UNFPA are helping out but because of the undying commitment of the community.