This blog was originally posted by Chelsea Ducharme on the Global Health Corps blog.
As a current Gates Institute for Population and Reproductive Health. With a theme of “Full Access, Full Choice,” I was consistently inspired and challenged while attending presentations by researchers, political figures, advocates, youth, donors and implementing organizations all fighting together for the health and rights of women and girls. It is evident that continued commitment is needed to address the estimated quarter of all women globally desiring to control pregnancy.
One method of ensuring sustained commitment for a healthier and more just future is building leaders of tomorrow. So, ICFP heavily involved youth in the conference via several methods. During the Youth Preconference, the panel “Human Rights Approaches to Family Planning” framed my perspective for the rest of the week. The below thoughts from Kate Gilmore, Deputy Executive Director of UNFPA, illustrate well the focus of the session:
- Human rights is for all of us – the best and the worst. The purpose of it is to provide a discourse of what a human being is. It is a verb, not a noun. There is no development without human rights.”
- “Family planning is not about contraception and fertility rates, it is about a choice. A right to live without fear, stigma, and discrimination.”
I could not agree more. Her passion and provocative statements sparked a fire in each of us to do more. However, in listening and reflecting on these concepts, I couldn’t help but think about other human rights injustices that must be addressed to make a positive impact on the health of women and children worldwide. And though there are many, I propose an equally significant companion statement to one of Ms. Gilmore’s thoughts in light of a week that was also shared with the Annual Meeting of the American Society of Tropical Medicine & Hygiene in Washington, DC (13-17 November): “Neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) are not about parasitic worms and bacterial infections. They are about a right to live without fear, stigma, and discrimination.”
NTDS are a group of seventeen diseases that infect one in six people around the world, often termed the “bottom billion” – the poorest of the poor. Of those one billion infected, an estimated 500 million are children. NTDs are known to cause severe disfigurement and debilitation that impact not only health and nutrition, but also education level and socioeconomic status, pushing populations into a cycle of poverty. Currently, only fifty cents can protect and treat one person for a whole year from seven diseases such as onchocerciasis and lymphatic filariasis. Yet, as evidenced by the term “neglected,” addressing challenges associated with reducing NTD burden, such as lack of research, funding, advocacy, and political will, has been slow.
So in the aftermath of ICFP 2013, I propose the importance of universal access to both family planning and NTD prevention and treatment as vital to maternal and child health in most parts of the world. Mothers and children are particularly vulnerable to NTDs which have the ability to complicate pregnancies, threaten newborn health, severely disfigure, impair child growth, and reduce cognitive ability. As we work towards ensuring women can plan their births, let’s ensure a healthy pregnancy and that they can keep their children free of NTDs. As women become empowered to work through family planning access, let’s ensure NTD-related blindness or disfigurement doesn’t prevent them from their livelihoods. As women use family planning as an exit to the cycle of poverty for their families, let’s ensure NTDs don’t reverse this hard work. Just as meeting the need for family planning is one of the most cost-effective investments to increase income, education, and health among women and children, so is addressing NTDs.
We are all part of a global community and responsible for the wellbeing of each other…
Our best hope for the future is not to get people to think of all humanity as family—that’s impossible. It lies, instead, in an appreciation of the fact that, even if we don’t empathize with distant strangers, their lives have the same value as the lives of those we love. -Paul Bloom, “The Case Against Empathy”
…so let’s ensure that no matter where you are born, your health is not a barrier to achieving your dreams.
“He who has health, has hope. And he who has hope, has everything.” Arabian Proverb
As a GHC fellow, I share in our core belief that my generation has the ability to step forward, innovate, and make a positive impact on lives across the globe. If you’re interested in becoming a part of the health equity movement around these issues and others, here are some specific actions you can take:
- Learn about the discourse following ICFP 2013 and how you can be a part of ensuring the basic right to universal family planning access.
- Join the END7 movement, a Global Network for Neglected Tropical Diseases’ campaign that provides information and tools to build awareness and raise resources for NTDs.
- Apply to be a fellow with the Global Health Corps. Applications are now open until 26 January 2013.
Author: Chelsea Ducharme, MPH (@chelduch)
Chelsea is a current FHI 360, an international development NGO focusing on sustainable, integrated approaches to improving lives around the world. Pursuing her interest in infectious and neglected tropical diseases, Chelsea earned both an MPH in Global Health and a BS in Biology at The George Washington University.
As we continue to celebrate all mothers around the world this week, we’d like to share with you the Global Network’s new policy brief, Better Health for Mothers and Children, which urges policymakers to integrate NTD treatment into programs designed for improving maternal, newborn and child health.
NTDs, especially intestinal parasites and schistosomiasis, contribute significantly to anemia and poor absorption of vital nutrients. In the developing world, more than half of all pregnant women are anemic and one-third of all pregnant women are infected with hookworm, which contributes to iron-deficiency anemia. NTD treatment is also important for all women of reproductive age, especially considering the estimated 10 to 19 percent of women of reproductive age who are severely undernourished.
The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that pregnant women at risk for infection receive treatment for hookworm and schistosomiasis. The WHO also recommends deworming medication for preschool and school-aged children to protect them from these infections and to allow them to remain healthy and in school.
Integrating NTD treatment into existing maternal and child health efforts can help mitigate anemia, improve nutrition, and better equip a mother and her child’s immune system to fight off additional health threats, improving their overall health status and quality of life. As policymakers, non-profit organizations, and global leaders work to prepare the post-2015 development agenda, it is important for them to see the link between NTDs and women’s health and ensure that the programs include treatment for NTDs. For only 50 cents per person per year, pregnant mothers around the world can be protected from the effects of NTDs.
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Check out the latest in global health and NTD news with the todays End the Neglect reading list! Today were reading about:
Distribution of filariasis tablets begins The Fiji government has announced it will be distributing anti filariasis tablets again in an effort to eliminate the disease in the country. The 2011 Mass Drug Administration (MDA) will begin next week Monday. The tablets will also be available at Health Centres and Nursing Stations in the Central, Eastern and Northern divisions. Ministry of Health spokeswoman Priscilla Govind said the Central Eastern and Northern divisions will undergo a further (9th) round of MDA scheduled for 26th September to 7th October.
Johnson & Johnson Makes Strong Progress in First Year of Initiative to Improve Health of Millions of Women and Children in the Developing World Since its launch last September, Johnson & Johnson has laid a strong foundation for measurable impact in several areas toward Every Woman, Every Child, the United Nations’ Global Strategy for Women’s and Children’s Health to reduce mortality in women and children by 2015, including: expanding health information for mothers over mobile phones, helping to increase the number of safe births, doubling donations of treatments for intestinal worms in children Johnson & Johnson more than doubled its donation of mebendazole, a treatment for intestinal worms in children, through its Children Without Worms program, up from 36 million doses in 2010 to 80 million doses by the end of 2011. The Company plans to continue to expand this program to distribute 200 million doses each year in 30 to 40 countries by 2015.
Award-Winning LifeStraw® Water Filter Makes North American Retail Debut The award-winning LifeStraw® personal water filter is now available to consumers in the U.S. and Canada for the first time. The portable filter—used since 2005 amid harsh conditions in developing countries—removes bacteria and parasites from water, and is ideal for outdoor activities, overseas travel, and emergency preparedness. LifeStraw® is an elegantly simple but technologically advanced innovation. The filtering tube measures about nine inches long and one inch in diameter, and weighs less than two ounces. It removes virtually all bacteria (99.9999 percent) and protozoa parasites (99.9 percent) that can contaminate water, and it reduces turbidity (muddiness) by filtering out particulate matter.
By: Hope Randall, DefeatDD
In my work to raise awareness about the global burden of diarrheal disease, I read a lot about the many benefits of safe water and sanitation, including the promise it holds for girls and women. But whenever I think about its impact, I don’t think of a specific report or news article. I think about a timid, obedient girl I met in a tiny village in Western Kenya. She moved carefully in a bright green dress as she demonstrated how she gathers water for her family from a contaminated spring. I could tell she’d been doing it for a long time, as she skimmed the surface of the water with the bottom of her bright yellow container in a sincere, yet unsuccessful, attempt to clear the debris.
My heart ached as I watched her. I could see her life play out as I heard it in those reports and news articles, with heart-breaking predictability. Too many girls just like her sacrifice so much – their education, their safety, and endless hours of time – in a constant pursuit of water that may not even be safe to drink. Some estimates from Ethiopia predict that a girl can spend a third of girls chose not to attend school during their menstrual cycle because they were spied on or laughed at by boys. Read more: How Access to Safe Water can Empower Girls