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.

Inter-American Development Bank’s Documentary Highlights “Big Foot” in Guyana

 

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“I’ve had [lymphatic filariasis] for 18 years” said Bernadette Seenarine –a long time resident of Georgetown, Guyana who operates a small grocery shop from her home. In the short video titled “Tackling ‘Big Foot’: A Story of Sanitation and Health in Guyana”, the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) shines light on how lymphatic filariasis (LF) is negatively affecting communities in Guyana, one of four countries in the Americas where transmission of LF still occurs. Seenarine is one of an estimated 68,000 people –approximately 9 percent of Guyana’s population—assumed to have been infected with LF. In Guyana, it is estimated that 310,000 people are at risk of contracting the disease.

Lymphatic filariasis (LF)—also known as “big foot” in Guyana—is a debilitating neglected tropical disease (NTD) caused by microfilaria, a tiny parasite that causes the disease. In Georgetown, Guyana, the disease is predominately spread by the culex mosquito, the vector for the parasitic worm that causes LF. Due to the frequent flooding that occurs in Georgetown and its lack of adequate drainage and sewer systems, large pools of contaminated and stagnant water are formed throughout the city. These pools of water act as breeding grounds for culex mostiqutoes who transmit the LF disease to humans.

LF is extremely painful and causes profound swelling of the legs that can lead to permanent disability. People living with this disease also suffer from financial and social loses and can become stigmatized. “Sometimes people don’t want to come and buy when I have this foot,” Seenarine said when explaining how her swollen leg has caused people from her community to stop buying food from her grocery store. “…It’s really difficult to live with this.”

To tackle this problem, the Latin American and the Caribbean Neglected Tropical Disease Initiative (LAC NTD Initiative)—a partnership that includes the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) and Sabin Vaccine Institute’s Global Network for Neglected Tropical Disease—are working to scale-up efforts to control and eliminate NTDs within the LAC regions, including Guyana. These efforts include implementing joint community-based deworming campaigns for LF in Guyana’s capital of Georgetown, in addition to integrating social mobilization campaigns to educate Guyana’s population about LF treatment, transmission and prevention. The LAC NTD Initiative is also working to improve the infrastructure of Georgetown’s sewage system to reduce risk factors of contracting LF.

The Sabin City Group, a collaborative partnership with corporate institutions in the United Kingdom and the UK charity Sabin Foundation Europe, is also contributing in the fight to eliminate LF in Guyana by recently launching the group’s ‘Guyana campaign’. The campaign’s goal is to raise funding to support NTD programs in Guyana in an effort to eliminate LF by 2016.

To learn more about NTD projects carried out in the LAC region, we invite you to read this published report titled “It Can be Done: An Integrated Approach for Controlling and Eliminating Neglected Tropical Diseases”. We also encourage you to watch IDB’s documentary on LF in Guyana and the work that is being done to control and eliminate the disease.

Intervention with Impact: Integrating Safe Drinking Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene to prevent Undernutrition and NTDs

 

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By: Jordan Teague, Program Associate at WASH Advocates

My niece turned two years old on Sunday. It was a joyful occasion, celebrating that she can now speak in full sentences, gives full-blown hugs and started pre-school in the fall. The entire family gathered this weekend with presents, cake and a birthday outing to a fire truck parade. During the festivities, it occurred to me that my niece is now past the first 1,000 days of her life, the most critical time with regard to her nutrition. We are fortunate that because we live in the United States, we have not had to worry about undernutrition or the illnesses related to that condition, but what if she had been born somewhere else?

In many places around the world, undernutrition is not the only worry that families have for their small children and themselves. Over 1.4 billion people in Africa, Asia, and Latin America and the Caribbean are affected by at least one of the neglected tropical diseases (NTDs). These diseases largely overlap in areas where undernutrition is prevalent and magnify its impact on childhood growth and micronutrient deficiencies. In fact, all of the 34 countries with the highest levels of malnutrition are endemic for NTDs. Several NTDs like schistosomiasis and soil-transmitted helminthiasis (STH) are underlying contributors to stunting and undernutrition. Not only do they affect child health and survival, but they also have detrimental impacts on cognitive development, educational outcomes and economic growth.

A lack of safe drinking water, adequate sanitation and proper water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) contributes to both NTDs and undernutrition. Safe WASH is key to preventing, controlling and eliminating five NTDs: Soil transmitted helminthes (also known as intestinal worms), schistosomiasis, trachoma, lymphatic filariasis and Guinea worm. Similarly, poor sanitation and unsafe drinking water cause diarrheal disease and environmental enteropathy, which inhibit nutrient absorption and lead to stunting and undernutrition. Improved WASH allows for the absorption and use of vital nutrients and calories, leading to improved nutrition and health.

Given the myriad of linkages between WASH, NTDs and nutrition, joint policies and programming have significant potential to scale up the impact of the individual efforts. For example, in 2013 Dubai Cares launched an integrated Home Grown School Feeding Program that includes elements of all three sectors. This program includes in-school meals prepared from local foods and commodities in addition to deworming treatment and provision of WASH interventions in the schools. This program shows how different stakeholders can collectively use their diverse expertise to make a larger impact on the health of a community.

WASH interventions support the sustainability of progress made through NTD and nutrition programs on reducing disease and improving health. Real and sustainable impacts can be achieved when investments in NTDs and nutrition go hand-in-hand with efforts to provide WASH.

Jordan Teague is the Program Associate at WASH Advocates, where she focuses on sustainability within the WASH sector and the integration of WASH with other development efforts such as nutrition, NTDs and education.