Cooperate Across Sectors to Improve Neglected Tropical Diseases and Nutrition Outcomes

 

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By Scott E. Bleggi, Sr. International Policy Analyst, Bread for the World Institute

Scott Bleggi is a senior international policy analyst Bread for the World Institute. Bread for the World Institute provides policy analysis on hunger and strategies to end it. The Institute educates opinion leaders, policy makers, and the public about hunger in the United States and abroad.

Controlling neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) is an important part of improving nutrition, and vice versa. Diseases such as schistosomiasis and intestinal worms result in stunting, wasting and micronutrient deficiencies, and poor nutrition increases susceptibility to NTD infection. Cross-sector collaboration – between the health, nutrition, NTDs and WASH communities – is crucial to achieving nutrition and NTD control and elimination targets. 

Nutrition is a foundational element in human development, and a growing body of evidence shows that it is a vital link across international development sectors. Although nutrition was once solely the domain of public health professionals, development assistance practitioners in agriculture, education, gender, and water/sanitation/hygiene (WASH) are realizing that their successful project outcomes can have a direct and positive effect on nutrition.

Does a value-chain project in horticulture or livestock production improve nutrition? What about efforts to keep girls in school an extra year or two before they assume family and village responsibilities? Does improved hand-washing and food preparation hygiene improve nutrition?  The answer to all these questions is a resounding yes!

The number of people in the world affected by at least one of the 17 NTDs listed by WHO is approaching 1.5 billion, and we know now that NTDs can damage a person’s nutritional status at any point in life. Worse, contracting an NTD can cause infection and other problems that cancel out or even reverse efforts to improve nutrition.

As nutrition started to be at the core of development assistance across sectors, it was clear that a comprehensive strategy to coordinate efforts was necessary. In May 2014, USAID announced its Nutrition Strategy. Bread for the World Institute participated in its development, along with other members of the nutrition stakeholder community (advocacy and operational partners of USAID).

The nutrition strategy recognizes the essential role of nutrition in human development (especially during the “1,000 Days” period from pregnancy to age 2). Moreover, the strategy acknowledges that high rates of chronic malnutrition can cause significant losses in a nation’s GDP and impose other economic costs. The USAID strategy also lays the foundation for the development of a comprehensive Global Nutrition Coordination Plan among all U.S. government offices.

The strategy treats nutrition as “multi-sectoral”– meaning that effective nutrition interventions can be made not only in health programming, but also in agriculture, education, and WASH projects. The most important direct nutrition interventions include 11 “essential nutrition actions” articulated by the World Health Organization and identified as particularly effective in fighting malnutrition in the research published in the Lancet Maternal and Child Nutrition series. Indirect nutrition actions are nutrition-sensitive activities that target the underlying causes of undernutrition, and direct interventions can be complemented by indirect nutrition actions for maximum impact. In fact, combining direct and indirect actions by “bundling” projects that include both has been found to be the most effective development investment a country can make.

USAID is committed to the World Health Assembly 2025 Nutrition Targets and is developing additional nutrition targets it will use to track and evaluate its development assistance. Included in these is a target in Feed the Future of reducing stunting by 20 percent in five years in regions where this initiative has programs.

Companion legislative bills have been introduced in the Senate and the House that would authorize Feed the Future as the government’s primary program for global food and nutrition security. Despite recent improvements reported by FAO, there are still 805 million chronically undernourished people in the world. With legislation, we can solidify U.S. leadership in fighting hunger and malnutrition, build and improve upon vital work that has been done, and leverage a government approach across all sectors and programs to meet specific goals for progress against global hunger and malnutrition.

Blog Action Day: Standing up for the World’s Poor

 

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END7 is participating in Blog Action Day on October 16th — a day for thousands of bloggers to come together to talk about inequality. 

Most people living in the United States and other high-income countries have never heard of diseases like elephantiasisriver blindnesssnail fevertrachomaroundworm, whipworm or hookworm. But nearly one in six people globally, including more than half a billion children, have these diseases – known as neglected tropical diseases (NTDs). Without treatment, NTDs can lead to lifelong disabilities and suffering. Because NTDs largely affect the world’s most vulnerable communities, those already affected by extreme poverty, they are notorious for perpetuating inequality.

Yet ending NTDs is an achievable and realistic goal. All it takes is 50 cents per person per year to treat and protect someone from all seven of the most common NTDs. And with regular treatment, NTDs can be controlled and eliminated for good.

NTDs have devastating consequences for the world’s poorest people. They can lead to malnutrition and stunting, blindness, disfiguration, cognitive delays, lost productivity, poor maternal and child health and social stigmatization.

The links between NTDs and inequality are well documented. For example, an article published in PLOS NTDs revealed that Indonesia’s high prevalence of NTDs could perpetuate inequality within the country, despite its surging economy. NTDs make it hard for parents to make a living, and for children to attend school. These diseases drastically weaken a person’s health and cause unnecessary suffering.

When children and parents become infected with one or more NTD, their potential is diminished; five-year-old Neema was unable to attend school because of intestinal worms – a type of NTD. And Sahr Gando, a father in Sierra Leone, could no longer work and provide for his family when he became infected with schistosomiasis, a painful NTD that can lead to death.

Countries like Colombia and Ecuador have already eliminated the NTD onchocerciasis. And countless other countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America are well on their way to ending needless suffering caused by NTDs.

By defeating NTDs, we can ensure that the world’s poor have an equal chance. At the basic level, everyone should have adequate nutrition, the opportunity to be educated and the right to prosper and contribute to society. Yet NTDs rob the billion and a half people living in poverty of these basic opportunities and undermine other development efforts. If we wish to end inequality, we must end NTDs. If we wish to address some of the world’s greatest challenges like world hunger, AIDS, poverty and needless suffering, we must end NTDs.

But in order to end NTDs and achieve greater health equity, we must continue to raise awareness and advocate for the control and elimination of these diseases. Ending NTDs must be a priority within the global development agenda and among world leaders. Countries like the United States and the United Kingdom must remain committed, and even increase their commitments, to supporting NTD-endemic countries in their fight against NTDs. Most of all, we cannot remain quiet and take a back seat as more than half a million children continue to suffer from preventable diseases. Stand up against inequality today by pledging to end NTDs.

VlogBrother John Green Captures Trip to Ethiopia through Video Blogs

 

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By Angad Dhindsa and Emily Conron

This summer John Green, the author of A Fault in Our Stars and one half of the video-blogging VlogBrothers, took a trip to Ethiopia with Bill Gates. Despite John’s admitted fear of mosquito-borne illness, he enthusiastically traveled to East Africa to witness the region’s dramatic improvements in health care and reduced infant mortality. In addition, John was able to learn how he – as a video blogger and public figure – could improve the health of poor communities in the region.

Throughout his trip, John captured a series of video blogs to share with his devoted followers – referred to as “Nerdfighters.” John mentions that in contrast to the United States, poor communities in Ethiopia lack access to social media, YouTube and other mediums often used to connect with others far away and amplify important messages.

To cap off the trip John started a fundraising campaign with water.org for Ethiopia to continue developing sustainable water solutions. Bill Gates decided this was a great idea and agreed to match $100,000 of donations if they were raised.

For more on John Green’s trip, read some of his quotes and watch his videos below:


John: “Hank, I’ve found humans to be extraordinarily generous within their social networks, like think of how quickly we support friends and colleagues in need. But lack of access to like, Tumblr and YouTube makes most people living in absolute poverty totally voiceless in our online world, and inevitably we begin to imagine their problems as others, as things that don’t happen to us.”


John: “But this brings up an interesting problem, which is that the internet in Ethiopia is CRAZY SLOW. [Dial-up modem noise plays] I mean, like, yes, that slow. That makes it hard to watch a lot of creators, it makes it hard to comment; it also takes forever for Tumblr to load. And we talked about how that makes it hard to be an active participant in online communities. Almost all of their social media interaction happens with people they know in real life. To which I said, “What is real life??””


John: “But it was also hard to watch, it’s hard to see kids suffer, and mothers worry, and to feel powerless before it, and it’s hard because these are problems that I was unaccustomed to, I mean the poor are voiceless in too much of our contemporary discourse. This kid’s mom doesn’t have a Twitter or a Youtube channel. And so we don’t hear about her challenges as directly as we hear about others. Maybe that’s part of what makes it easier to look away too, but regardless, I kept doing it; I have hours of footage of my camera looking away.”

Clearly, the VlogBrothers have a fresh take on the challenges of international development after this trip and a unique platform with which to share their new insights. Their “Nerdfighter” community is famous for their generosity – and creativity – in responding to social problems, raising hundreds of thousands of dollars for a variety of causes through their annual Project for Awesome, a YouTube crowdfunding campaign where members of the Nerdfighter community compete with creative videos advocating for different charities to win part of a pot of money raised by the community. This year, END7 will be encouraging our growing community of student supporters to create videos for the contest in the hopes of both raising money for NTD treatment programs around the world and raising awareness of NTDs among a new audience. We’re excited to see what the VlogBrothers think of next!

Ecuador Becomes Second Country in the World to Eliminate River Blindness

 

With help from the Carter Center and the Pan American Health Organization, Ecuador has officially become the second country in the world to achieve elimination of onchocerciasis (river blindness).

To eliminate onchocerciasis in Ecuador, the country had to overcome a major obstacle — Simulium exiguum; the main vector in Ecuador is exceptional at transmitting the disease. Ecuador’s Ministry of Health had been distributing medication in the country since 1990 — halting distribution in 2010 after transmission of the disease was successfully interrupted.

Watch a video from the Carter Center to see how treatment reached some of the most remote communities in Ecuador:

Ecuador is the second country in the world to receive verification from the World Health Organization in eliminating onchocerciasis after Colombia in 2013. The next challenge being undertaken in the fight against onchocerciasis in the Americas is addressing the disease in the scattered and migratory Yanomani population who live in the border area between Venezuela and Brazil.

Read the Pan American Health Organization’s press release here.