Category Archives: Health Initiatives

One Child One World™ — Helping Ghana’s Orphaned and Vulnerable Children

One of the hundreds of orphaned and vulnerable children benefiting from the One Child, One World project in Ghana. Photo: Phil Farnsworth

Sub-Saharan Africa is home to an estimated 53 million orphans – 12% of all children in the region. Most orphaned children are taken in by extended family, but with almost half of Africans living on less than a dollar a day, these children often become an unmanageable burden. As a result, a large number of orphans end up living in residential facilities.

To help address the needs of the children in these facilities, AmeriCares is partnering with the Hope for All Foundation and Youth and Social Enterprise Fund  in the One Child One Worldproject, a four-year initiative that focuses on improving nutrition and health for orphaned and vulnerable children ages 0 – 18 months, living in 30 residential homes in Ghana.

Ghana has seen a marked  increase in the number of orphaned and vulnerable children along with a high demand for supportive care and housing. With growing demand, many supportive care facilities are experiencing severe resource constraints, including limited access to well-balanced and nutritional meals for children.  

“Children living in these homes are twice as likely to be malnourished.”

Since the launch of One Child One World in July 2011, AmeriCares has delivered four shipments of nutritional supplements, infant formula, and personal care and hygiene products.  At the end of 2011, nearly 600 children had benefited from the program, including one little boy by the name of Kofi.

Left: Kofi upon arrival. Right: Healthy, happy Kofi

Kofi arrived at Royal Seed Home, one of our recipient facilities in central Ghana, when he was 5 months old. He was drastically underweight for his age and suffering from malnutrition. Thankfully, at the same time Kofi arrived at Royal Seed Home, so did AmeriCares first shipments of nutritional supplements.

 In one month’s time, Kofi had gained nearly a pound and caregivers were already noticing other improvements in his health. By the end of March 2012, after four months of receiving nutritional supplements, Kofi had gained 10 pounds. He is now nearly 20 pounds, a healthy weight for a child his age.

Kofi is just one of thousands of children in Ghana who suffer from malnutrition. Research conducted for the One Child One World™ project revealed that children living in these 30 residential homes are twice as likely to be malnourished compared to their Ghanaian counterparts living outside the homes. This is an alarming statistic when you consider the serious health consequences that arise as a result of malnutrition, including increased susceptibility to serious diseases, along with development delays in physical and cognitive growth.

Through the  One Child One World™ project, AmeriCares is giving children like Kofi the opportunity to live happier and healthier lives.

World Day for Safety and Health at Work

In January, 2012, Justine MacWilliam, project manager for AmeriCares Health Worker Safety Initiative, traveled to Bugando Medical Centre in Tanzania to see first-hand the remarkable achievements that Bugando’s workers have made in improving hospital safety during the three-year pilot initiative. Here, Justine provides a glimpse of the life-saving culture of change the initiative has created among hospital staff.

Health workers wear protective gear in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Bugando Medical Centre in Tanzania. Photo: Phil Farnsworth

“Many of Tanzania’s health workers haven’t had adequate training on preventing the spread of hospital-related infections and injury.”

Saturday, April 28th, is World Day for Safety and Health at Work, a day to raise awareness about the importance of preventing injury and disease related to workplace hazards. Hospitals everywhere pose workplace hazards, especially in developing countries, where health workers risk their lives each day on the job.

In Tanzania, where AmeriCares has its longest-standing Africa partnership, infectious diseases are still the leading cause of death, and access to vaccines is extremely limited. Many of the country’s health workers don’t have consistent access to safety-oriented supplies to protect themselves and most health workers haven’t had adequate training on preventing the spread of hospital-related infections and injury. Tanzania also has the lowest rate of physicians per capita of any country in the world, with only one doctor per 100,000 people. In an effort to protect Tanzania’s sparse and underequipped health care workforce, in 2008 AmeriCares launched the Health Worker Safety Initiative (HWSI), with a goal to develop a center of excellence in safety at  Bugando Medical Centre, a teaching and referral hospital staffed by 1,200 health workers and nearly 1,000 medical students who care for nearly 250,000 patients each year.

“During my most recent visit, all of Bugando’s health workers had already attended safety trainings, and big changes were evident.”

Through the HWSI, all of Bugando’s health workers participated in two-day safety trainings. These workshops include critical occupational safety topics ranging from infection prevention and control to proper use of personal protective equipment and fire safety. Trainings are led by a team of 40 Bugando health workers from different departments who were themselves trained at the launch of the project, using a special curriculum developed specifically for the HWSI. AmeriCares also supports the project with regular donations of safety-oriented supplies and equipment, vaccines against hepatitis b, tetanus, and yellow fever, and grants for infrastructure upgrades to improve hospital conditions.

During my most recent visit, all of Bugando’s health workers had already attended safety trainings, and big changes were evident. “Everyone is more aware of occupational hazards from what they’ve learned in the trainings and from seeing what happens when other people are injured,” explained Nurse Gemetilda Katongo, a health worker safety trainer who has 20 years of experience as a nurse at Bugando. “Since the project and the trainings began there have been less injuries and needle pricks among health workers. Also, when people are injured they now understand the consequences, so they follow proper procedure and use post-exposure prophylactics more strictly.”

 Photo: Phil Farnsworth 

“One of the greatest successes of the HWSI is the way that it has transformed the work environment for Bugando’s staff.” 

What struck me the most in my discussions with nurses at Bugando was how empowering the project has been for the hospital’s health workers, and the level of enthusiasm among health workers for applying the lessons of the trainings. Nurse Katongo explained “I know the hazards that can appear and I am teaching people and they respect me.” Nurse Deborah Mollel, a 30-year veteran of Bugando agreed, “All health workers are reinforcing good behaviors with one another. We work together as a team. The changes in behavior are the most important part of the project—these will be long-lasting.”

One of the greatest successes of the HWSI is the way that it has transformed the work environment for Bugando’s staff. Health workers told me that they feel more confident when treating patients now that they have been vaccinated against hepatitis B and have the gloves and other important pieces of equipment that keep them safe on the job. These improvements have changed the attitudes of health workers about coming to work each day. Nurse Mollel told me, “Now we are proud to say that we work at Bugando. Our safety and working conditions are now so much better compared to other hospitals, and we are well-stocked with the supplies to keep us safe.”

I know that this year on World Day for Health and Safety at Work, I will think about the hugely dedicated health workers at Bugando Medical Centre, and celebrate the great achievements that AmeriCares and Bugando have made together in building a safer, healthier place to work.

Guatemala: Inequality and Great Need

Last month, Kristen Kelly, Senior Associate, Latin America & Caribbean Partnerships, traveled to Guatemala to visit our partner, the Order of Malta, and the institutions and communities they support with donated medicines and supplies delivered by AmeriCares. The visit focused on medical capabilities and ability to use the medical and humanitarian aid we deliver. Below are Kristen’s impressions of what she witnessed during her visit. 

In Guatemala, where malnutrition rates are high, children receive supplemental meals from AmeriCares.

Guatemala is unlike any other country I have seen in Central America. The inequality is hugely apparent, as is the need. AmeriCares delivers a large volume of medical and humanitarian aid to the country, and I soon discovered that not only do they put it all to good use – but they can use so much more.

The malnutrition rates are among the highest in Latin America, creating a crucial need for food and supplements, as well as treatments for maladies that are either a direct result of malnutrition or worsened by malnutrition.

“Now bedridden, the young mother could not cook for her family.”

I have a vivid memory of a young mother that I met. She was my age, but looked 10 years older. As she nursed her baby, the community health care worker explained the hardships this young mother faced: At just 25 years old, she had five children under the age of 10 and had just suffered a miscarriage. Now bedridden, the young mother could not cook for herself or her family. Her son, all smiles and laughter despite his circumstances, had just been given a XANGO meal pack provided by AmeriCares to make up for the food his mother was too weak to prepare.

There is a saying in Guatemala: Patients die with their prescription in hand. The lack of medicines and gaps in healthcare were more than evident in the woman we met who was suffering with a treatable goiter that obstructed her airway, making it difficult for her to breathe. She had been waiting for an appointment to see a specialist for six months after her initial visit to the hospital.

“At this hospital, every Friday is “Bullet-removal day.”

Violence is another “disease” that plagues Guatemala more than other Central American countries I’ve seen. The public hospital we visited cited trauma care as their highest priority and need.

Our tour began in the emergency room where we saw a doctor stitching a wound after removing a piece of a bala, or bullet, from the patient’s left finger. When I asked the doctor whether bullet wounds were commonplace, he explained that at this hospital, every Friday was el dia de las balas – or “Bullet removal day.” On the way out, firemen rushed in a gurney carrying a patient with a bullet wound located an inch from his carotid artery. The doctors were not surprised; this was not a rare occurrence.

Sometimes, in this line of work, you can almost become desensitized after visiting so many impoverished hospitals and clinics. This did not happen in Guatemala – it was a hugely impactful trip to a country that clearly has a desperate need for the help that AmeriCares delivers.

Veronica’s Story: Field Report from Rural Health Program in El Salvador

Penny Crump, a visiting AmeriCares staff worker, highlights the bustling everyday activity of the El Salvador Clinic programs and their impact on the community.

I’ve just returned from “Pounds of Love” – AmeriCares-supported program providing maternal and child health care, nutritional support and other critical assistance to families in rural El Salvador.

AmeriCares helps serve families living in tin-roofed shacks in the jungle bordering a coffee plantation. Without running water or electricity, families collect rainwater to drink and fire wood to cook. To reach the community, we drove along steep gullies on muddy roads up the Santa Ana Volcano, four-wheeling it for close to an hour.

When we arrived, families and program workers were sharing how to improve self-esteem and early childhood development. Families spoke of their children’s first steps or new words. After the session, children and expectant moms received health check-ups, supplements, fortified foods, hygiene items and any necessary medicines.

Veronica, a two-year-old girl, benefits from Pounds of Love. Her mother, Maria, says the program helps her develop Veronica’s language and motor skills with educational exercises, playtime and songs. And when Veronica was sick a few months ago, she saw the doctor at one of the program’s regular local clinics. Veronica received free antibiotics and other medicines to help her respiratory infection. She soon recovered and is back to playing with her favorite dolls and teddy bears.

For families like Veronica’s, going to the doctor for an urgent visit is an expensive ordeal. Medicines are expensive and medical transport is virtually impossible for families to afford – $50 for one trip, two weeks pay for a coffee plantation worker.

Maria also told me of a regular problem for Veronica and other children in her community – a lack of clean water. During the rainy season, it’s hard to collect enough dry wood to boil water long enough to kill contaminants. Maria asked me if AmeriCares could please send more water purification supplies, antibiotics and antifungal medications to help prevent infections and treat the children during the approaching rainy season. I could see the worry in her eyes as she looked at her child.

As the day wound down, we exchanged hugs and kisses all around. I promised to share Maria’s story and let her know people will read them and be inspired to help more mothers just like them. I’m so lucky to have been able to spend time with the wonderful families from the Pounds of Love program.

Malawi Field Report

A mother attends to her child being treated at the AmeriCares-sponsored therapeutic feeding center in Malawi.

Elikem Tomety Archer, AmeriCares partnership manager for Africa, worked extensively in Africa including health programs in HIV/AIDS, malnutrition and anti-blindness initiatives. Elikem shares her most recent trip and tales of hope, from Malawi.

We left New York on a chilly Thursday morning and finally arrived in Malawi on a sunny Saturday afternoon. As soon as our plane landed on the tarmac, we were greeted by our local partners and got right to work. We literally hit the ground running.

Help save lives in Malawi and around the world » 

On the Ground:

Malawi is heartbreakingly beautiful. The country was once the breadbasket of Africa. Sadly, severe droughts have made for a rapid decline. During times of drought, lush greenery is replaced by a constant haze of dust on the barren horizon. The country is still recovering from a devastating drought that sparked a famine that killed hundreds and caused severe malnutrition in 2002.

Malawi is one of the world’s least developed countries, ranked number 166 of 177 countries on the Human Development Index. HIV/AIDS is the leading cause of death with 14% of the population is infected and nearly 100,000 people dying each year. Despite the government’s commitment to improving health, life expectancy is barely 41 years.

The people of Malawi now face disease and crushing poverty on a daily basis – yet they treat every moment alive as a gift, knowing first hand how fragile life really is.

But even when Malawi’s children don’t contract deadly disease, they face major challenges and can suffer with chronic malnutrition. That’s why AmeriCares helped build a therapeutic feeding center in Malawi.

Urgent Needs:

Over the years, I’ve had the pleasure of visiting and working with our partners, which has been receiving AmeriCares support since 2002. I have consistently been impressed by the love and care I see among the people there. Despite the presence of well-trained doctors – many graduated from both local and prestigious Western medical schools – the hospitals and clinics have limited ability to provide care and virtually no diagnostic capabilities. They would have few medicines and supplies were it not for donations.

Equipment is out of date and much of it is in great need of repair. Supplies that would be discarded in the U.S. are often recycled and reused.

Most families in Malawi live on remote farms, making access to health care nearly impossible. The average patient must walk for miles to get care; people delay getting care, which only makes things worse. In response, AmeriCares outfits teams of health workers with medical backpacks and bicycles to bring health care where it’s needed most.

One of the most memorable workers, Victor, makes house calls to pregnant women at high-risk for passing on HIV/AIDS to their unborn babies. Their medicines are very complicated, and Victor patiently and carefully makes sure they take just the right dose at the right time. I was thrilled to learn that the program has a 97% success rate and that so many children are born free of the deadly disease.

But even when Malawi’s children don’t contract deadly disease, they face major challenges and can suffer from chronic malnutrition. That’s why AmeriCares helped build a therapeutic feeding center in Malawi. The child I remember most was a young toddler who arrived at the Center just in time. He was emaciated. His fragile mother had carried him the whole way from her home, walking for nearly a day to bring him to the Center. Being the mother of my own young son, my heart went out to them. Her son stayed on intensive feeding for two solid weeks. When we made a follow up visit, I could not believe my eyes! His chubby cheeks and smiling face showed us that he was now thriving – reminding me of my own healthy little boy.

How we can help:

When I see first hand the results of our work with the people of Malawi, I feel all the more inspired to help AmeriCares efforts thrive and succeed. Their dedicated doctors and health workers make the most of every donation we give. Among the supplies they need the most are basic pain medicines, antibiotics, bandages, syringes and needles.

Maternal health is of serious concern. Many women have high-risk pregnancies and 25% of babies at local hospitals are born by surgical c-section. To care for these moms, they desperately need anesthesia, ultrasound machines, surgical equipment and other supplies to help with difficult deliveries. I was glad we were able to provide some relief with a donation of epidurals (strong medicines that help reduce labor pain while allowing a woman to remain awake during delivery), but so much more is needed.

I look forward to the day when I can return to Malawi and see more families living longer, healthier lives thanks to help from AmeriCares.

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