American University of Beirut

Compassionate volunteer service is an Art of Public Health

Siting in the bus, Yaqub hears a woman coughing repeatedly. He approaches her and says, “I am Yaqub Mohammad. I am a health volunteer with the International Organization for Migration (IOM)." He chats with her about her symptoms and advises her to contact the Ministry of Public Health National Tuberculosis Program (NTP) to check for tuberculosis (TB). He also gives her his phone number and that of his supervisor. A few weeks later, Yaqub receives a call from the woman. “I am truly thankful for you. I turned out to be TB positive. I have started my treatment, and I am getting better." The heart of Yaqub fills with joy. This is why he has chosen to become a health volunteer.

Yaqub Mohammad knows what it means to catch tuberculosis. He is a migrant. He left his country, Sudan, eleven years ago, settled in Tayyouneh and started working in a janitorial service company. One day, he started experiencing a set of alarming symptoms. He was coughing and had night fever and chills. He lost his appetite for food. He endured this for four months. Then he met a friend who advised him to visit the National TB Program (NTP) to test for TB. He was diagnosed with tuberculosis. Fortunately, he got his treatment and fully recovered. He was thrilled when he received an invitation from the IOM to become a health volunteer, “I want to make sure that no one suffers the way I did. It is so rewarding to know that I am contributing to saving lives," says Yaqub.

As a child, Yaqub did not receive any formal education, but he learned to read and write Arabic. The NTP and IOM trained him along with other health volunteers to deliver scientific information about TB to his audience. Yaqub wants to ensure that everyone he encounters knows about TB. Not only that, but Yaqub also helps in promoting COVID-19 vaccination. On choosing his audience, Yaqub explains, “I am on a constant mission. Wherever I go, I talk about TB. My audience is mainly migrant communities, but I also make sure to talk about TB to anyone I encounter on the bus or on the street." A look at his WhatsApp profile picture would certify this. The picture says in Arabic and in English, “If you have tuberculosis or know someone who has tuberculosis, contact me."

When asked about public health, Yaqub replies, “I don't know what public health is." The truthfulness of his words cannot but touch your heart. He works diligently to improve the health of his community, not knowing that his work lies at the heart of public health. A true champion whose interest is solely in serving and improving the health of others—sparing them the agony of the illness he went himself. This is an art of public health!​​​

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