[inlinetweet prefix=”” tweeter=”@AmeriCares” suffix=””]When I first heard #HealthCareHeroes, it took a while for me to understand it.[/inlinetweet] The hashtag’s purpose seemed simple: to help spread the word about the heroes we see providing quality health care to others – people like doctors and other medical professionals. Except it then hit me: how many of these kinds of heroes do we really know that well? It might not be enough for the idea of a health care hero to ever really catch on. But recently I figured out the true meaning behind #HealthCareHeroes, and how it can apply to a lot of people we know.
I finally understood it when I discovered what AmeriCares was supporting in Japan with our local partner, Hope Worldwide Japan (HWWJ). [inlinetweet prefix=”” tweeter=”AmeriCares” suffix=””]This video shows how an unusual approach to healing led to my revelation about #HealthCareHeroes.[/inlinetweet]
When one thinks of mothers dying during childbirth, the United States is probably not a country that comes to mind. It’s common knowledge in the international community that a large majority of maternal deaths occur in developing countries. The World Health Organization reports steady progress in the reduction of maternal deaths since 1990, with a 45% global decrease. However, when looking at the figures specific to the U.S., the statistics tell a different story.
The U.S. is the only developed country in a group of eight where maternal deaths have increased between 2003 and 2013, according to the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation. In 1990, the maternal mortality ratio was 12.4 deaths per 100,000 live births. In 2013, this number is much higher at 18.5 per 100,000 live births, which the Lancet suggests is underreported. The report ranks the U.S. 60th for maternal death on a list of 180 countries, meaning 59 countries are doing a better job at keeping their mothers alive than we are.
Most alarmingly, some of America’s cities suffer higher rates. The city of Detroit has a maternal death rate triple the national average. Between 2008 and 2011, Detroit’s maternal mortality ratio averaged a disturbing 58.7 per 100,000 live births. This number is even more startling when compared to the rates of similar developed countries. From 2009-2013, the maternal mortality ratios of the United Kingdom and Sweden averaged 8 per 100,000 live births and 4 per 100,000 live births, respectively.
The hardest thing for me to grasp when seeing these numbers is the fact that many of the causes of maternal death are preventable. Women die as a result of major complications of childbirth, including severe bleeding, infections, and high blood pressure (leading to eclampsia). In the developing world, these causes could be attributed to lack of resources, among other factors. However, in the U.S., we have well-equipped facilities and skilled health care providers. We are the country that spends more on health care than any other developed country (17.9% of GDP, according to World Bank), and we have the resources to prevent maternal mortality.
So then, my question is: why are they still dying? [inlinetweet prefix=”” tweeter=”AmeriCares” suffix=””]This upward trend in maternal mortality likely reflects some inequalities in the health care system[/inlinetweet]: a complex combination of lack of access, poverty and ethnic/racial disparities. To put this into perspective, the CDC (2003) reports that African American women in the U.S., regardless of education level, had maternal mortality ratios that were three to four times those for white women.
One of the many rewards I’m finding as part of my internship at AmeriCares this summer is seeing the work that the organization is doing to help lower rates of maternal mortality both in the U.S. and abroad. As an example, within the U.S. partner network for FY14, AmeriCares provided enough prenatal vitamins and folic acid to fill about 200,000 prescriptions. Abroad, AmeriCares works with partners in countries such as Afghanistan, where we provide safe birthing kits at Afshar hospital, just outside Kabul.
[inlinetweet prefix=”” tweeter=”AmeriCares” suffix=””]To improve the maternal mortality ratio, maternal health must be a priority. [/inlinetweet]
As a rising senior studying film at the University of Colorado, I was lucky enough to spend my summer as the Multi-Media Intern at AmeriCares. While growing up in Stamford, I had heard about the great work that AmeriCares was doing. However, the real extent and global reach of this organization was not apparent to me until I started working here on my first assignment. Searching through the images captured over the years from countries all around the world, including the United States, I discovered that AmeriCares is so much more than a disaster relief organization.
[inlinetweet prefix=”” tweeter=”AmeriCares” suffix=””]I came to AmeriCares with the hope I could make an impact on the world.[/inlinetweet] I suspect that is what draws everyone here.
From the first day I arrived at headquarters, I was instantly blown away by the amount of collaboration and team work in the office. I had only been here for half an hour and already I was in a meeting with the entire organization (it happens every Monday morning). During the meeting I was able to hear about what each department was doing, some recent achievements and interesting news about global health. At the end of the meeting, along with the rest of the interns, I was finally introduced to the whole organization. I felt welcomed warmly and was impressed by the expression of compassion evident in every presentation that morning.
There are reminders of AmeriCares global work throughout the office. The cubicles may have colorful tapestries or good luck tokens from many different cultures, along with photos of health workers and recipients that benefit from AmeriCares work.
One particular image motivates me every day: a painting of AmeriCares founders Bob and Leila Macauley. Every morning I see this painting, and I am reminded of the care and sacrifice made to start this organization. Bob and Leila’s dedication and passion for helping others is the bedrock of this organization, and to this day AmeriCares staff carries on their legacy.
Since Bob Macauley’s passing, AmeriCares continues its work to help more and more people. The organization is building on the core values that created AmeriCares and introducing new ways of thinking about the scope of its programs and maximizing its resources. As a student, I am grateful for this opportunity to see an organization grow, change and value its strong legacy.
An unofficial fable of AmeriCares dedication and mission is The Starfish Story. It was one of Bob’s favorites – the story of one person’s quest to make a difference, one living creature at a time. The Starfish Story is what AmeriCares does each day. The dedication and commitment of this staff to the mission, to the people we help, is a constant presence. It motivates me, and will continue to motivate me for years to come.
The goal of AmeriCares is to help people live longer, healthier lives. Although the scope of our organization has grown in the last 32 years, [inlinetweet prefix=”” tweeter=”AmeriCares” suffix=””]we know that to change the world, you have to start with one person.[/inlinetweet] As Margaret Mead said:
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
At AmeriCares this summer, I am proud to be among the thoughtful and committed team that is working to change the world each and every day.
After my first semester in college, I came home to find the biography of Dr. Paul Farmer, Mountains Beyond Mountains, sitting on my desk with a yellow sticky note affixed to the front that read, “E – read this. Love, Mom.” I stacked the book on my bedside table without looking at it, exhausted by a grueling set of exams. A few days later, however, I picked up the book and couldn’t put it down. I have always been interested in medicine, but as I read Dr. Paul Farmer’s account of his efforts to bring health care to “those who need it most,” I was inspired in a whole new way.
Since then, my understanding of health inequity has grown enormously, and with it, my resolve to address it. One of the starkest representations of health inequity is the worldwide death toll from cholera. Cholera is not only preventable with adequate sewage and sanitation systems and general access to clean water, but is also treatable. And it’s inexpensive to treat, at that. All you really need is water. Water that I take for granted every day when I wash my hands, take a shower or fill a drinking glass. Still, [inlinetweet prefix=”” tweeter=”AmeriCares” suffix=””]more than 100,000 people die from cholera each year – almost all in developing countries.[/inlinetweet]
At AmeriCares, I’m surrounded by a group of inspiring individuals who have dedicated themselves to addressing some of the world’s most pressing health issues, including cholera mortality. AmeriCares greatest commitment to fighting cholera so far has been in Haiti, a country vulnerable to cholera outbreaks due to limited access to clean water and sanitation. Furthermore, Haiti is prone to disasters such as hurricanes, earthquakes, and rainy season flooding—all of which can exacerbate these vulnerabilities. AmeriCares provides IV fluids, oral rehydration solutions, antibiotics, disinfectants and buckets, among other supplies, to help health workers in Haiti care for patients in critical need during outbreaks. These supplies can, and do every day, make the difference between life and death for cholera patients.
One of the Haitian patients AmeriCares has reached is Joenne*, who was only five years old when cholera struck. She suffered from vomiting and diarrhea, and arrived, unresponsive, at our partner clinic. Joenne received donated IV fluids to reduce her dehydration, and in minutes, she was able to move and regained consciousness. Thanks to AmeriCares participation in the fight against cholera in Haiti, our partner clinic was able to quickly restore Joenne’s health and save her life.
It took only one hero, one champion of underserved populations, for me to realize my passion for working towards global health equity. But it is the everyday hero, the health worker in Haiti who saves a child like Joenne or a logistical partner who ensures the timely delivery of AmeriCares donated products, whom I wish to honor in this post. [inlinetweet prefix=”” tweeter=”@AmeriCares” suffix=””]These #HealthcareHeroes are making tangible differences in people’s lives every day.[/inlinetweet]
*Patient’s name has been changed.
Stories of the silent crises for people with little or no access to health care, and our programs, initiatives and ideas that strive to build healthier futures for people in need around the world and here at home.