Category Archives: Latin America and the Caribbean

South-South Cooperation Moves Forward to Free the Indigenous Yanomami People from Neglected Tropical Diseases

 

Photo by Shaan Hurley

Today marks the United Nations (UN) Day for South-South Cooperation — an opportunity for the global development community to examine how developing and emerging countries can share knowledge, exchange best practices and pursue joint projects to generate tangible solutions to development challenges.

As a young officer in the Ministry of Health of Argentina, I attended the first UN Conference on Technical Cooperation among Developing Countries (TCDC) where I had the opportunity to witness the launching of the Buenos Aires Plan of Action, a blueprint adopted in 1978 that offered guidance and new energy to the concept of south-south cooperation. At the same time, the International Conference on Primary Health Care concluded with the Alma Ata Declaration — a public health milestone that recognized health as a fundamental human right.

It was an exciting time to be a part of these landmarks in public health and see how these principles are being carried out today. A closer look at Brazil and Venezuela’s joint commitment to controlling and eliminating neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) within the Yanomami community —a nomadic indigenous tribe made up of approximately 35,000 people — spotlights the key role of south-south cooperation in reaching all populations in need of key health interventions. Equally important, this successful model can be replicated within the Latin American and Caribbean (LAC) region and across the globe.

The Yanomami territory is a remote stretch of tropical rainforests and mountains on the northern border of Brazil and southern part of Venezuela (approximately 19,000[1] people live on the Brazilian side and 16,000 on the Venezuelan side). The combined border area is over 9.6 million hectares — about twice the size of Switzerland — and represents the largest forested indigenous territory in the world. The entire community is affected or at risk for onchocerciasis, also known as river blindness.

The high prevalence of onchocerciasis  within the Yanomami community represents the last stronghold of this disease in the LAC region, which has made significant strides towards its elimination, in addition to controlling many other NTDs. Several countries across the region have either launched or implemented national plans to control and eliminate NTDs within their borders. In 2014, Colombia became the first country in the world to eliminate onchocerciasis. These successes underscore the strong political commitments made by regional leaders including the Organization of American States (OAS), the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) and the Council of Ministers of Health of Central America and the Dominican Republic (COMISCA).

While these are impressive milestones, more work needs to be done to address NTDs within the Yanomami community —  as the area occupied by the Yanomami is regarded as the greatest challenge for interrupting the transmission and making LAC an oncho- free region. Because of their nomadic habits plus their isolated and forested environment, health workers must travel by helicopter or boat to reach them. Many logistical and financial challenges need to be overcome to deliver the required series of treatments.

Here is how south-south cooperation can help address these challenges:

Brazil and Venezuela formalized and agreed to join efforts to tackle this problem in May 2014 during the 67th World Health Assembly. Through this commitment, these two countries will coordinate efficiently the provision of continuous integrated healthcare for affected communities in both Brazil and Venezuela. They will work together to train local community health workers and form bi-national humanitarian teams that will also include local residents to treat the last focus of onchocerciasis in the Americas through the development of integral  healthcare to affected communities on both sides of the border.

Furthermore, these teams will support the creation of a bi-national health model to provide work assistance for Brazil and Venezuela. A technical team of the Brazilian Ministry of Health is working with the Venezuelan Ministry of Health team in order to strengthen and integrate public policy to eliminate onchocerciasis in the Yanomami area.

By harnessing their collective experiences and expertise, I am confident that these countries can successfully work together to end the unnecessary suffering of the Yanomami population — and ultimately help the LAC region see the end of onchocerciasis.

Looking ahead, the post-2015 development agenda dialogue, the BRICS Ministers of Health meeting and the UN South-South Cooperation EXPO offer exceptional opportunities for government officials and development partners to showcase south-south cooperation as a critical, sustainable and successful model to address NTDs and other pressing global health and development challenges.


[1] According to Health Ministry of Brazil, in 2012, the Yanomami territory had 293 small villages that contain 4,550 families from five different ethnic groups, most of them Yanomami. There were 21 thousand of indigenous people living in this region, which 11,600 were located in endemic area.

Haiti’s National Program for the Elimination of Lympathic Filariasis Prevails Despite Adversity

 

Photo by Olivier Asselin

Photo by Olivier Asselin

Haiti has made remarkable progress against lymphatic filariasis (LF), a disfiguring and stigmatizing neglected tropical disease (NTD), despite facing many challenges. A recently published PLOS NTDs editorial highlights the perseverance and support displayed by the Haitian government and development partners, resulting in scaled-up mass drug administration (MDA) across the country, integrated programs with soil-transmitted helminths (also known as intestinal worms) and increased morbidity management. With these successes, the Haitian effort to eliminate LF can certainly be a model for other countries.

The Haitian Ministry of Public Health and Population (MSPP) established the National Program to Eliminate LF (NPELF) in 2000 to stop LF transmission and reduce the suffering of infected people. Key partners include the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, United States Agency for International Development (USAID), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), CBM, Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), Abbott Foundation, PepsiCo, Frank Eck Family Foundation and others.

In the first MDA, conducted in Léogâne in 2000, the NPELF and local partners trained community leaders and health volunteers on medicine distribution techniques and educated them about LF treatment, transmission and prevention. Social mobilization was another integral component, spreading messages by banners, posters, radio and megaphones to increase the number of people participating in MDA.

Efforts then focused on scaling up the program to reach all people in need. However, over the course of many years, natural disasters and political and social unrest challenged expansion of the LF program. Just some examples include random acts of violence, devastating hurricanes and flooding, an earthquake and a vicious cholera outbreak.

Yet, increased advocacy, new funding and reinvigorated planning provided the necessary boosts to scale up and achieve results. One of the meetings that jumpstarted new progress was organized by the Global Network, Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) and IDB. As the PLOS NTDs paper explains, “The partners affirmed their support for NTD control and elimination of LF, and the donor community responded. With new funding for MDA in Port-au-Prince from CDC and others, Haiti was finally poised for the first time to achieve full coverage of the entire country with MDA, with a population in excess of 10 million.”

Now, Haiti has achieved full national coverage, and it must strive for interrupted LF transmission. With strong partnerships and continued political commitment, this milestone is in Haiti’s grasp.

To read the full paper, “Haiti National Program for the Elimination of Lymphatic Filariasis — A Model of Success in the Face of Adversity,” click here.

Paraguay is Doubling the Bet with a Deworming Campaign to Treat and Prevent NTDs among School Children

 

Credit: Pan American Health Organization

Credit: Pan American Health Organization

Last week, I was very excited to see that Paraguay’s Ministries of Health and Education, in collaboration with the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) aimed to treat more than 1.4 million school children, as well as homeless and indigenous populations, for intestinal worms during a four-day deworming campaign.  This year’s campaign marks a significant scale-up from last year’s effort which reached 700,000 school children in comparison.

In order to double the outreach from previous campaigns, they spread the word in a number of ways, including through social media. Thanks to visual informational materials, and even the creation of a friendly mascot, children across the country were motivated to take deworming medicine.

Intestinal worm infections disproportionately affect the poor in Paraguay. More than 50 percent of Paraguayan households lack access to clean water and sanitation, exacerbating the spread of neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) like intestinal worms.

These infections rob children of nutrients and energy and can lead to anemia and malnutrition, preventing them from going to school and undermining their potential to learn and succeed. But thanks to Paraguay’s expanded efforts to treat and control intestinal worms, more and more children will benefit from improved health. As girls grow up free of worms, well-nourished and better educated, they will also become better prepared for a healthy pregnancy and a successful delivery of healthy babies.

Last week’s campaign, launched in the City of San Lorenzo on August 4th, promoted the importance of proper hygiene and sanitation in addition to distributing deworming medicine. Regular hand washing, increased use of toilets and latrines and washing fruits and vegetables are essential to help prevent the spread and reinfection of intestinal worms.

The government of Paraguay, PAHO, municipal governments, school teachers, and parents all played a role during the campaign and helped promote hygiene practices by sharing materials and conducting trainings. To ensure that rural populations also received medicines and educational materials, national health teams worked closely with local health departments as well. We congratulate the leadership of the Ministries of Health and Education for this innovative and collaborative work.

Paraguay’s 2014 deworming campaign demonstrates the country’s commitment to controlling and eliminating NTDs. However, Paraguay can do more to lessen the unnecessary suffering caused by NTDs.

Efforts need to be made to map the prevalence of intestinal parasites, track and report existing deworming efforts, and focus on establishing programmatic collaborations with neighboring countries Bolivia and Argentina to implement NTD efforts in the cross-national Chaco Region where many communities of indigenous people are living in extremely poor conditions. With a strong commitment to maintain these activities, Paraguay’s children will benefit from a healthier and more prosperous country.

Why More than a Million School Kids in Honduras are Happy without Worms

 

ARK_4179

When I arrived at Escuela Pedro Nufio, a school in Choluteca, Honduras, I saw hundreds of healthy kids eagerly raising their hands in class, laughing with their teachers and playing outside with their friends.

These kids were happy and healthy thanks to Honduras’ commitment to end neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) – an effort supported by Honduras’ Ministries of Health and Education, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), the World Food Program, several NGOs, and last but not least, hundreds of END7 supporters who made generous donations on behalf of the 2.5 million children suffering from NTDs in Honduras.

See the difference we made together:

In 2012, Honduras became the first country in Latin America to launch a national plan to control and eliminate NTDs. Since then, the country has scaled up its national deworming campaign, and this past year, 1,051,659 children in 11,576 schools were treated for NTDs.

But Honduras’ deworming campaign is about more than just NTD treatment. Access to clean water and sanitation, and NTD education and prevention are also important parts of the country’s integrated program. To answer this need, END7 supporters provided clean water to 100,461 people by purchasing and installing water treatment equipment in the municipalities of Marcovia and El Triunfo. END7 donors also funded the training of school children, teachers, and communities on parasitic worms and the importance of hand washing.

After traveling to Honduras, I felt more optimistic than ever that we CAN control and eliminate NTDs. Honduras is making incredible strides against these diseases – and the health workers and teachers I met there are extremely passionate and committed to ending the suffering of their people.

To reach their end goal, Honduras is moving forward with eight department level operational plans and the training of personnel from each department on NTD control-related activities. However, Honduras still needs support to close their funding gap and reach all children at risk for NTDs.

The kids I met in Choluteca need to be treated annually to remain free of NTDs. Donate today to make sure these kids continue to smile, succeed in school and lie healthy lives.