by | May 12, 2020 | STEP-IN BLOG | 0 comments

In the midst of this global pandemic and the incessant ‘bad’ news saturating the media, we would like to share something more positive- our most recent coronavirus success story!

Over the past two weeks STEP-IN has been working to further our coronavirus response here in Iraqi Kurdistan. Besides our continued provision of primary healthcare and our adapted pharmacy service (hand-delivering essential medications to chronic patients who are self-isolating or unable to reach our clinics), we have begun an incredible project providing vulnerable and displaced populations with reusable face masks!

Communicable and viral diseases spread quickly and uncontrollably within camp environments. Large numbers of people live in close quarters, with poor sanitation systems, and relatively inaccessible health care. These environments mean people are unable to self-isolate or practice physical distancing. Even common contagious diseases tend to spread like wildfire.


We have hired and trained 31 displaced women living in camps and villages in Dohuk Govenorate, specifically from the Dawoodia Camp and Sharia village, to sew and produce reusable face masks, which will then be distributed amongst our target populations in Erbil and Dohuk alongside an awareness campaign over the upcoming weeks. We will be distributing 5,000 masks in the Kaznazan neighbourhood of Western Erbil, and 20,000 in the Dawoodia and Sharia Camps themselves.

Within the project’s first week we had a number of women sign up to the project and invited them our mask-production training sessions on a first-come first-serve basis. We then provided all of those who attended our training sessions with the necessary equipment and materials required for mask production and asked them to provide us with a sample bag of masks, which acted as our interview process.

From these samples we hired 31 women, who, within a week, produced 9,500 masks between them! Our head office in Dohuk, to the amusement of many of our staff members, then seemingly transformed into a mask production line. Over the weekend the office staff washed, dried, and ironed thousands of masks and packed them ready for their transportation to Erbil and Dawoodia.


One of our STEP-IN doctors is currently conducting coronavirus campaign training sessions for our locally employed community health workers in Erbil. This is so that, as we distribute masks to the 4,000 displaced people living in Kaznazan, we can simultaneously conduct an awareness campaign informing recipients on coronavirus facts, proper mask use, hygiene prevention methods, and tips on how to stay healthy through quarantine. We will also provide recipients with printed materials (provided by the KRG health cluster) summarising the main points of the campaign. This part of the project is incredibly important as it will encourage mask use amongst recipients.

Over the next few weeks the women we have hired will produce a further 15,000 masks for distribution in Dawoodia and Sharia. Which will again be distributed alongside an awareness campaign conducted by locally employed community health workers. This project not only allows us to prepare a vulnerable population for possible further waves of coronavirus, by informing their understanding of the virus and providing masks, but also has allowed us to provide women (arguably the most vulnerable section of the displaced population) with training, a temporary income, and an opportunity to join the workforce. Quarantine measures in Iraqi Kurdistan have included travel restrictions in and out of camps and between villages and cities. This has meant that a number of displaced people in temporary employment have since lost their jobs. Especially as the majority of displaced people and camp residents work in irregular labour and delivery roles. By providing women with employment specifically tailored to this time, we are not only encouraging the development of the woman’s role outside of the home, but also providing a contribution to household incomes that may have suffered due to current circumstances.

The WHO and CDC currently recommend wearing masks in all public places. As previously stated, our target population resides in close quarters and are unable to practise physical distancing to the recommended degree. Masks and personal protective equipment have also become difficult to obtain even for those working in the health sector and the regular purchasing of disposable masks is impossible for low/no income families. By producing reusable masks for the displaced population and teaching them about their purpose and proper use we are preparing them for incoming waves of coronavirus in the region and giving them a head start on awareness and preparation. A reduction in coronavirus cases in the region has meant travel and congregation restrictions are beginning to lift. Public spaces such as the bazaar in Dohuk have quickly filled with people within the last few days, the majority of whom are not wearing masks nor practising physical distancing.

Although the easing of restrictions is vital for the Kurdish economy, which is struggling due to many factors, least of all decades of conflict and plummeting oil prices but may mean that an additional wave of coronavirus will spread with an ease and pace far exceeding the original wave. It is therefore vital to continue our project and prepare, prepare, prepare!

10,000 facemasks down, 15,000 to go!

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