Category Archives: Medical Aid

Lucky to be Here – An Intern’s View of Working at AmeriCares

By Carl Pribanic, AmeriCares Development Systems Intern
By Carl Pribanic, AmeriCares Development Systems Intern

[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.

DSC_0074One 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.

2014 Summer Intern Group Photo
The 2014 AmeriCares Summer Interns

How a Clean Birth Kit can save Mothers and Infants

by Becky Reindel, AmeriCares Extended Network intern
by Becky Reindel, AmeriCares Gift-In-Kind intern

My first volunteer experience was in the maternity ward of a Connecticut hospital. My job consisted of restocking the shelves with medical supplies, diapers, diaper bags and sometimes even car seats. All of these items were available to the new mothers if they could not afford the products on their own. My interactions with the mothers included wheeling each mother and child out to their car at the end of their stay. In these brief interactions, I was able to see the joy that accompanies childbirth. Though language barriers sometimes kept our conversations short, the mothers gladly told me the names of their newborns and how excited they were to bring them home.

Milad and her son at her first postnatal check-up. Photo courtesy of American Medical Overseas Relief
Milad and her son at her first postnatal check-up. Photo courtesy of American Medical Overseas Relief

Until starting my internship at AmeriCares, I took this image of childbirth for granted. As I began doing research on maternal health through the group intern project at AmeriCares, I quickly learned that the supplies, the hospital and even the joy of new motherhood were not ‘givens’ worldwide. [inlinetweet prefix=”” tweeter=”AmeriCares” suffix=””]All too often, childbirth involves the preventable death of a mother or infant.[/inlinetweet]

I was particularly shocked to learn about the lack of access to health care facilities in Afghanistan. Only 34 percent of deliveries in Afghanistan had a skilled birth attendant present, according to the Afghanistan mortality survey (2010). The World Health Organization (WHO) identified the lack of skilled birth attendants worldwide as a major barrier to reducing maternal mortality rates. This is certainly an issue in Afghanistan, which is the only country outside of Africa to have maternal death rates above 300 deaths per 100,000 live births. Afghanistan also has high rates of infant and child mortality with one in five children dying before age 5.

There is a way to begin saving mothers and infants who lack access to skilled birth attendants, and AmeriCares has partnered with an organization in Kabul, Afghanistan, to find a local solution. The solution they found costs just two dollars.

Community outreach and education are a key factors in reducing maternal mortality. Photo courtesy of American Medical Overseas Relief
Community outreach and education are a key factors in reducing maternal mortality. Photo courtesy of American Medical Overseas Relief

The WHO identified the need for clean birth kits to lower the mortality rates during unattended home births. The kit comes in a biodegradable pouch and includes hand sanitizer, surgical gloves, an under pad, scalpel, cord clamp and nasal aspirator. Among other aid to the region, AmeriCares in partnership with American Medical Overseas Relief (AMOR) plans to donate 1,200 clean birth kits to Afshar Hospital’s Community Outreach and Patient Education program (COPE). In the initial phase of the program, 200 birth kits have been sent to the region. The distribution of these kits is targeted at areas with the most need: impoverished and isolated communities around Kabul.

[inlinetweet prefix=”” tweeter=”AmeriCares” suffix=”-“]It is exciting to discover the innovative ways that joy can be restored to childbirth[/inlinetweet] in communities around the globe. Maternal mortality rates are decreasing worldwide, but until every woman has access to skilled attendants, there must be alternative solutions—like the clean birth kits—to give women safer birthing environments and keep infants free from infection.

Empowering Women to Be Their Own #HealthcareHeroes

By Ariel Low, Emergency Response Intern
By Ariel Low, Emergency Response Intern

In my hometown, ambulance transport is provided by volunteer Emergency Medical Technicians (EMT). Whenever the ambulance is dispatched for a woman in labor, the goal is always to get her to the hospital before she delivers the baby because it’s the safest place to give birth. This is why, as a volunteer EMT, I’ve found myself rushing a woman in labor to the nearest hospital on a few different occasions.

In Haiti, some women have to walk several hours over rugged terrain to get to a clinic. [inlinetweet prefix=”” tweeter=”@Americares” suffix=””]Delays to quality care can be the difference between life and death for women and their babies.[/inlinetweet] AmeriCares has partnered with the Haitian Health Foundation to help fill this urgent health care gap by providing funding for the purchase of two ambulances, which are already saving lives. These ambulances are critical to providing emergency obstetric care for women in rural settings.  They are accessed through alarms sent by phone or text from Mother’s Clubs in mountain villages.  Without the community element of the program and the ambulances, many lives would have been lost.

Photo courtesy of Haitian Health Foundation
Photo courtesy of Haitian Health Foundation

AmeriCares commitment to women’s health in Haiti is multifaceted and doesn’t stop at providing ambulances, just as AmeriCares commitment to Haiti didn’t stop after the initial earthquake response. When writing our blog posts, we were asked to think about #HealthcareHeroes. Looking at AmeriCares work with this in mind, the “Partnership for a Better Haiti” program, another part of AmeriCares commitment to women’s health, leapt out at me. This program highlights many of what I think are the best aspects of AmeriCares work: partnerships, sustainability and empowerment.

“Partnership for a Better Haiti” is a program established by AmeriCares partner the Haitian Health Foundation.  One element of this project, now in the third year of support from AmeriCares, is to educate women and girls about their legal and health rights through meaningful social engagement. While I hadn’t watched much soccer before this year’s World Cup, soccer is very popular in Haiti. Another element of this project is to link soccer games and education, allowing women to form a sense of comradery while learning about sexuality, reproductive rights and female health.

Photo Credit: Megan Topp
Photo Credit: Megan Topp

Women who’ve gone through the program become #HealthcareHeroes for themselves and the other women in the community. These women amplify the effects of the program by mentoring other women and promoting an ideological shift around women’s health and rights that leads to healthier women and communities.

“[inlinetweet prefix=”” tweeter=”@AmeriCares” suffix=”~M. Mead”]Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world.[/inlinetweet] Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead

The opportunities for self-growth and meaningful engagement in the community I gained as a volunteer EMT are what led to me interning at AmeriCares, which is why it is so inspiring to see AmeriCares helping to provide opportunities for other girls to grow and become engaged in their communities.

Slipping Through the Cracks – Why We Might Always Need Free Clinics

by Sal Migliaccio, U.S. Medical Assistance intern at AmeriCares
by Sal Migliaccio, U.S. Medical Assistance intern at AmeriCares

Imagine you are a child living in West Virginia. You have one sibling and two working parents. Your father, a coal miner, has lung cancer. Your parents’ combined income totals $40,000 per year, or 168 percent of the Federal Poverty Line (FPL). Even though your state expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, you remain ineligible for the program.

Instead, your parents must purchase health coverage through West Virginia’s state exchange, which consists of only one insurer. They opt for the lowest coverage plan because its $10 monthly premium is all that fits into their tight budget. Each time someone in your family receives medical care, 40 percent of the treatment cost must be paid up front, out-of-pocket.

This is what it can look like to be underinsured in the United States in 2014.  Despite its name, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) can be unaffordable for some West Virginians, says Jim Harris, Executive Director of Health Access Inc. in Clarksburg, West Virginia. I spoke with Jim this past week, and he gave me a detailed picture of the state’s health care landscape. I learned that while West Virginia was one of 27 states (including D.C.) to expand Medicaid, residents who earn at or above 133 percent FPL are ineligible for the program and must purchase one of the few health insurance plans offered through the state-federal exchange. For those in the state that have registered for the low-premium bronze plan, out-of-pocket costs can escalate.

Jim Harris, Executive Director of Health Access in Clarksburg, West Virginia.
Jim Harris, Executive Director of Health Access in Clarksburg, West Virginia.

Jim told me that this has led many West Virginians to drop their insurance plans, reverting back to care at their local free clinic. With many living just above the new Medicaid threshold, free clinics continue to be their most affordable option for medical care.

Jim explained that because West Virginia has consistently high rates of uninsured residents, many patients have relied solely on free clinics for care. This demand has created a strong infrastructure of safety net health care providers across the state, with most accepting patients regardless of their ability to pay or their insurance coverage. Harris said that it’s important that the infrastructure of free and charitable clinics be maintained, especially while the details of the ACA are still being worked out.  Jim added that this is true in other states as well: Despite a declining uninsured population in the U.S., [inlinetweet prefix=””” tweeter=”@AmeriCares” suffix=”””]free and charitable clinics may continue to be the only affordable form of health care for millions[/inlinetweet] of low-income folks across the country.

Sal2I learned that while the health insurance system is much different today, it can be unaffordable or unattainable for our country’s most vulnerable patients. It’s clear to me that, regardless of the degree to which states implement the ACA, gaps will exist. As illustrated by Jim’s experience in West Virginia, the ACA is, by no means, the be-all end-all solution to the health care crisis in the United States. In fact, I’m not sure such a solution could even be created.

AmeriCares understands the continued relevancy of free and charitable clinics across the U.S. during this transition period and in the future. This summer, I’ve had the pleasure of working with the AmeriCares U.S. Medical Assistance Program, which remains committed to its 650 partner organizations as the largest donor of medicines, medical supplies, and equipment in the country. Whether for day-to-day operations, or when responding to emergencies, our program supports organizations such as Health Access that work to make affordable health care a reality for all people across the country.

Childbirth in Africa – a Life or Death Situation

By Kimberly Ryng, Institutional Relations Intern
By Kimberly Ryng, Institutional Relations Intern

Childbirth is often referred to as bringing new life into the world. As a woman in the United States, I’ve always subscribed to the bright halo of possibility that surrounds the arrival of a new baby.

However, since beginning my internship at AmeriCares, I’ve faced the dismal reality of maternal and child health in the developing world. Elikem Tomety Archer, AmeriCares director of Middle East and Africa partnerships, shattered my comfort zone with a simple remark: [inlinetweet prefix=”” tweeter=”@AmeriCares” suffix=”~Elikem Archer”]“Childbirth in Africa is a life or death situation.”[/inlinetweet] The truth is, women and children are dying every day.

Elikem explained to me that in rural areas of Africa there are woman who “have no concept” that they need to see a doctor when going into labor. I was shocked to learn that in Liberia, 75 percent of women give birth outside of the health system, exponentially increasing the risk of complications. For example, obstetric fistula, a hole in the birth canal, is a common complication for immature or malnourished mothers who experience prolonged labor without proper medical attention.

Before my internship I had never heard the word fistula, nonetheless considered that a hole in the birthing canal could be a consequence of giving birth without a trained assistant. Lack of education, proper nutrition and medical care plague not only maternal health, but child health as well. Elikem recently returned from Ghana where she was visiting AmeriCares One Child One World™ program. One Child One World aims to upgrade the nutritional status of 30 orphan homes in Ghana.

When AmeriCares began the program in 2011, 27 percent of the children in the homes suffered from malnutrition and 50 percent of deaths under the age of five could be contributed to malnutrition. One Child One World offers nutritional training to the caregivers of the homes, in addition to medicines and nutritional supplements, to improve the health of the children under their care. Since AmeriCares began the program, more than 200 caregivers have received nutritional training.

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Doctors, health facilities, and even transportation are basic functions of health care in the United States, yet are often considered luxuries in other parts of the world. Women and children in developing countries are dying because of preventable issues such as malnutrition and obstructed labor. I only hope that with more attention to maternal and child health, and the continued good work of organizations like AmeriCares, that progress will be made and pregnancy will no longer be a matter of life or death.