Category Archives: Child health

On being a mother…

My career in global health parallels my journey into motherhood.  I was heavily pregnant when I started working at AmeriCares and my first son was born six days after my first day on the job. I took my first trip to the field, visiting our partner in rural Malawi, my son was only seven months old.

Because of this parallel, I often see my work in the field through the eyes of a mother. On that first trip to Malawi, I saw a little boy about 18 months old who was severely malnourished. As a result, he was about the same size as my seven-month-old son. I understood the anguish of the mother who had walked several miles to the hospital with her son in her arms seeking care – for as a mother, I’d do the same.

Last year, on a trip to Liberia, the land of my birth, my heart was pierced when I heard wailing coming from the maternity ward – a wailing that only meant one thing: a mother had lost her baby. Having gone through the prospect of losing my son a day after he was born, I walked away haunted by that piercing cry and the thought that this mother could have been me.

For you see, the difference between me having two healthy sons and that woman crying in the maternity ward most likely lies in the fact that my son had access to emergency neonatal care. In the United States, four neonates die per 1,000 live births, while in Liberia, about 11,000 babies are dying within the first month of life. Think for a moment about how many mothers cannot celebrate Mother’s Day in Liberia without a hole in their heart because of this staggering number.

The need to address neonatal mortality in Liberia and across sub-Saharan Africa has become a matter of urgency. World Bank President Jim Kim recently said, “For most poor people, a good job is the key to escaping poverty. To get those jobs, they’ll need good skills, a quality education, and years of good health as they’re growing up and when they’re adults.” Kim is right, because children all over the world are born with the same potential.

I’ll never forget little Kofi* — a boy I met two years ago at a children’s home in Tamale, Ghana. He was about four years old then. Kofi was introduced to the iPhone by a visitor to One Child One World™  — a program which aims to reduce the incidence of malnutrition in 30 homes around the country. Within minutes, Kofi was flipping through the phone, looking at pictures and was as engaged as any child of his age here in the United States with a smartphone. In that moment, the potential that lay in Kofi was clear to me and everyone present. The question that remained unanswered as we left that home was whether he will in his lifetime have the opportunity to realize it. 

Kofi’s chance to get out of poverty depends on, among other things, years of good health. A journey that begins at birth and with a mother having the access to the health services needed to take him home healthy after delivery. That this isn’t the reality for most mothers in developing countries should give us pause on this Mother’s Day.

*name changed

Why We Wear White When Babies Are Born

I remember my aunties coming home after having a baby – they always wore white beautifully designed slit and kaba – the traditional outfits in Ghana.  Then seven days after the baby is born, there’s a naming ceremony where the baby is ‘outdoored’ or formally introduced to the world and given a name.  Before that the baby is referred to as ‘it’.  Everyone is in white at this ceremony and there’s a lot of celebration – drinking, eating and dancing.  One day, I asked my grandmother why we wear white after a baby is born and why we wait seven days before giving a baby a name.  Her response was that the white symbolizes victory – victory over death.  As the laboring mother had faced death and prevailed.  And we wait seven days to give a baby a name because we wanted to make sure the baby had decided to stay among the living before we gave it a name.

As a girl, I never understood the full impact of my grandmother’s words.  It wasn’t until several years later working in global health that I came to understand the perils of childbearing in Africa – and why it is indeed true that every time a mother in Africa comes home with a new baby, she has indeed faced death and triumphed.  The WHO has named maternal deaths in Africa as “Africa’s silent epidemic” and Africa has the highest rates of maternal deaths and infant mortality globally.  The sad truth is, for every woman in Africa who dies giving birth, there are 30 more who live with debilitating diseases like fistula due to complications during the birthing process.

There are a number of factors driving this:  lack of adequately equipped health facilities, lack of trained medical birth attendants, lack of medicines like oxytocin. There are also simple solutions that have proven successful such as working with traditional birth attendants to identify risk factors, quickly referring mothers to trained birth attendants, using community health workers to follow up on pregnant mothers in rural communities, and using cost-effective and sustainable techniques like Kangaroo care to provide needed warmth to low birth weight babies.

Africa’s story often starts and ends with the challenges, but today on International Women’s Day, I want to wear a white slit and kaba and celebrate with all the brave women I meet on the continent every day:  The HIV positive mother in rural Malawi who walks over an hour to get to the hospital each week to make sure her baby is receiving the ARVs needed to ensure that the disease is not passed on, the grandmother taking care of the double-orphaned child and tending the small garden so she has enough food to feed the child, the midwife who delivers five children a day with gloves she has to reuse because she doesn’t have a choice, and the pediatrician in Kumasi, Ghana working around the clock to save neonates.  I salute all these women because it is their commitment and dedication that ensure that countless women in Africa who face death every day in childbirth can leave the hospital wearing white.  So today, I wear my white slit and kaba too.



Improving Health in Rural El Salvador

In El Salvador, TOMS Giving Partner AmeriCares distributes new TOMS Shoes to children to add value to their work, particularly in promoting good health practices in rural communities. AmeriCares believes that teaching people how to help children thrive and stay healthy is an investment that will pay off in better community health for years to come.

AmeriCares team in El Salvador works every day to empower people to practice good health and hygiene and to seek out ways of healthier living. In 2003, AmeriCares opened a full-service family health clinic in rural Santiago de María, the organization’s first clinic outside the U.S. The facility provides quality primary and specialty health care services to underserved families from many regions of El Salvador.

“Good health is essential to a thriving community,” explained AmeriCares’ Marta Cruz. “At our clinic, we work to educate people in the community to care for themselves and their families.”

The clinic is also an important source of health information for the community. Clinic employees encourage residents of Santiago de Maria to identify health issues they would like to learn more about, then the staff holds community health fairs on those topics. Last year, more than 45,000 people attended health education events on nutrition, diabetes, hypertension, prenatal care and prevention of chronic diseases and infections and more.

AmeriCares believes that educational outreach is a critical component of primary health care, strengthening disease prevention in the communities served by the clinic. It is through education events that new TOMS are distributed to children whose parents attend the fairs. Combined with quality education on health issues, AmeriCares has seen that TOMS are having positive impact in the communities and schools where they are distributed.

“When TOMS are given at our community health fairs, we are seeing improved attendance at our health fairs, which is leading to improved health in Santiago de Maria,” Marta said.

 Because of incredible organizations such as AmeriCares that distribute TOMS to children, the One for One movement is having a lasting impact on communities around the world through health, education and self-esteem. It is through our Giving Partners’ diverse integrative programming that TOMS is able to participate in responsible and sustainable giving.

This blog post was written by the staff at TOMS Shoes and published here in their TOMS Stories blog on December 4, 2013.  AmeriCares is a TOMS Shoes Giving Partner, distributing new shoes to children in need in several countries around the world.