Three to four hours. That’s how long one mother was willing to walk to make sure her child attended the annual vaccination and deworming campaign in the village of Coyalito in San Esteban, Honduras.
This past April was my third trip to Honduras in the last 14 months. On my first two trips, I spent the majority of my time running between government offices and meetings – including attending the launch of the Honduras national integrated plan on neglected tropical diseases (NTDs). Honduras was the first country* in Latin America and the Caribbean region to launch such a plan – which ensures that the country is tackling all diseases at once – versus one at a time.
This time on my return to Honduras, I saw firsthand how that plan was being put into motion.
And I was amazed.
For a country facing severe challenges in security and violence, Honduras is a leader and innovator when it comes to tackling NTDs.
Three government divisions – the Ministries of Health, Education and Social Development are working together to reach people in even the most remote parts of the country. They’ve taken charge by developing working groups to tackle issues and problems they notice when bringing the programs to the community.
They’re enthusiastic. They’re driven. And I’m quite positive that they’re going to succeed.
I know this because I traveled over six hours with the Ministry of Health over unpaved and rocky roadways on their visits to various districts. Distribution was carefully arranged: a health worker used a loud megaphone to call out to members of the community to invite them to visit the vaccine and deworming campaign. From there, mothers would bring their young children to receive essential vaccines and deworming medicine.
A nurse practitioner told me that bundling healthcare delivery– such as vaccination and deworming – often encourages more families to come. Most parents know about these diseases, especially the intestinal worms. In Honduras, and many other countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, there’s a common belief that if children grind their teeth at night, they have parasites. There is a demand for deworming, and mothers came armed with their child’s immunization card and found a space to account for their child’s annual deworming treatment.
The Honduran ministries are also thinking beyond treatment for NTDs to a more comprehensive approach. These diseases are often spread due to lack of access to clean water and proper sanitation, which is a reality for some of the families in villages like Coyalito. As a result, the ministries are pushing to incorporate water filters in schools, and other sanitation initiatives which will propel these treatment programs toward long-term success.
At the end of the day, I joined the health team in brief survey to determine attendance of the campaign. We walked around each “manzana” – or block – to knock on people’s homes and ask them if children were dewormed and vaccinated. Health workers talked to them about why it’s important to attend these campaigns and have their children treated.
Among advocacy organizations, it seems that we often divvy up health issues, as if family planning, treatment for NTDs and vaccination are all independent projects. But, the reality is that often, at the point-of-care level, everything is bundled together. It’s very effective.
Our partners in Honduras want to expand this successful initiative to help many more families. END7 is asking supporters to help fill a funding gap to make sure this medicine reaches Honduran children in 20,061 schools. With your help we can reach 1.4 million school children and protect them harmful parasitic worms, including roundworm, hookworm, and whipworm.
*In March 2013, Brazil launched their integrated national plan, and currently several other countries have draft plans in development.
Over the last year, the Global Network has collaborated with numerous partners on NTD prevention and control efforts in Latin America and the Caribbean. Haiti has been no exception to our efforts; from Inter-American Development’s efforts to integrate NTD prevention and treatment through deworming, hygiene education, and improved access to clean water and sanitation. The commitment of these individuals, partners and countless others was leading to significant progress in providing economic and social benefits to the people of Haiti.
The devastating impact left by the earthquake that struck Haiti earlier this week has not only affected the progress made to date, but has left millions of Haitians in urgent need of food, water, essential medicine and shelter. The Global Network is committed to the people of Haiti and to partners working on the ground, and urges others to donate to the many organizations focused on relief efforts. We must stand together and support the people of Haiti in the difficult days and months ahead.
Yéle Haiti– Hip-hop star and humanitarian Wyclef Jean’s organization has been committed for a number of years to improving the lives of Haitians. The organization has set up an emergency fund to support earthquake relief efforts, and in addition to donating on the website, you can also text the word YELE to 501501 and a $5.00 donation will be charged to your bill for emergency crisis relief support for Haiti.
Partners in Health is mobilizing resources to bring medical assistance to the hardest hit areas. The website has a donation page specifically for emergency funds for Haiti.
In 1974, one in ten people in West Africa suffered from river blindness (Mectizan Donation Program, and began providing onchocerciasis treatment free of charge in 1988.
By 2002, OCP and Merck had produced unprecedented results in West Africa – transmission of the infection was halted in 11 countries, 600,000 cases of blindness were prevented, and 22 million West African children were born free from risk of contracting the disease. These health impacts only begin to hint at the overall difference this program made. The program has freed 25 million hectares of arable land, enough to feed 17 million people per year. This increased land area, combined with improved workforce productivity post-treatment, paved the way for an increase of $3.7 billion in agricultural productivity in the region.
River blindness control in West Africa is living proof that public-private partnerships and community directed approaches can free millions from disfiguring and disabling conditions. As we celebrate this progress, we must recognize there is still more to be done. In Côte d’Ivoire—the largest global producer of cocoa—farmers continue to fear the reemergence of black flies that transmit river blindness. Continued investments in NTD control can have a greater impact far beyond health by promoting worker productivity, educational attainment, and better birth outcomes for mothers and children.
Latin America and the Caribbean have reached a new milestone in their fight against neglected tropical diseases (NTDs). The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) – the Regional Office of the WHO in the Americas – approved the first ever resolution to end the neglect of NTDs and other poverty-related infections in the Americas. NTDs are on the verge of elimination in the Americas, and this new call to action is a turning point for the marginalized populations living with poverty and inequity, including women and children, the rural poor, and indigenous groups.
The Resolution, with an accompanying technical report, was approved at the PAHO 49th Annual Directing Council meeting. It stated that it is “imperative” to eliminate neglected diseases and other poverty-related infections in the Americas.