This was not your average school day in Sierra Leone. On July 8th, 2013, thousands of children in the Western Area Rural District arrived to class and received a life-changing packet of pills. While small and unassuming, these pills change lives and have the power to protect each child from debilitating and painful neglected tropical diseases (NTDs).
Sierra Leone is home to some of the poorest health conditions in the world. Intestinal worms affect the entire population of the country – leaving millions of children sick, tired, anemic and undernourished. But thanks to you, we were able to ensure more than 58,000 of these children remain healthy and protected from NTDs for an entire year! Here’s how we did it together:
This April we END7 was able to support our partners on the ground in Sierra Leone this July.
Helen Keller International and the government of Sierra Leone distributed deworming medicine to treat and protect 58,365 children against NTDs. But this was no easy task.
The distribution of deworming medicine took place at multiple schools in the Western Area Rural District of the country. Zonal advisors and teachers across the region had to be trained in pill distribution and mass drug administration (MDA) in order to carry out the task at hand. Once training was completed, the teachers were ready to distribute medicine to thousands of children, and the children were ready to go to school to receive the life-saving medicine on July 8th. Together, we created 58,365 success stories in just one school day.
But that’s not where this story ends. The government of Sierra Leone is continuing the task of treating every child in the country against NTDs. Sierra Leone’s Neglected Tropical Disease Control Program plans to control and eliminate these diseases by 2015 and is working aggressively to do so. Even more, Helen Keller International, who’s been working in the country since 2002, is dedicated to seeing the end of NTDs in the country. Throughout HKI’s 12 years in-country, they’ve completed surveys on the prevalence of NTDs in Sierra Leone in addition to providing training and education so that Community Directed Distributors can distribute multiple treatments at the same time. We know our collective efforts will make a big difference in the lives of children living in Sierra Leone.
The July MDA in Sierra Leone demonstrates the effectiveness of NTD treatment when coordinated through already established institutions like local schools. Because children are so vulnerable to the effects of NTDs, school systems offer a unique and effective way to provide treatment to children who are infected or at risk of infection.
To date, END7 funds have contributed to several school-based deworming programs. But with your help, we can double – or even triple(!) – the number of school kids reached across the world! Will you donate? Together we can see the end.
“What we want to do is produce quality of life for the people.” – H.E. John A. Kufuor, President of the Republic of Ghana (2001-2009) and Global Network NTD Special Envoy
We have been 50 cents per person per year, we must garner greater attention, collaboration and political will to see the end of horrible suffering in the world’s most neglected communities.
We are certainly hopeful.
It was fitting that in the height of UNGA meetings, the undercutting many Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
“Business as usual” simply wouldn’t do! So, our event, “Innovate & Integrate: Multi-sectoral Approaches for Eliminating Intestinal Worms in Children,” set out to explore how and why organizations in the fields of NTDs; water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH); nutrition; maternal and child health; and education can collaborate on this issue to ensure lasting advancements.
Bill Lin, director of Worldwide Corporate Contributions at Johnson & Johnson, opened with his experience growing up in a rural area outside of Hong Kong. Forever imprinted on him was the constant chanting of “wash your hands” and “don’t put your hands in your mouth.” “You [couldn’t] get clean water just by flipping a faucet.” Bill explained.
Bleak living conditions then and now have caused the perpetual transmission of intestinal worms. Therefore, we must not only distribute medicines to control STH infections but also work with partners to stop them from spreading. “There is a clear need for the education [and] health sectors to work together” to encourage behavioral changes.
Helen Keller International (HKI).
Recognizing that we were talking about “a disease that isn’t killing a lot of people” during a “busy week in New York,” Dr. Besser asked Dr. Savioli, “why does [STH] deserve attention?”
Optimistically, Dr. Lorenzo responded, “We can do something about it. We are eradicating guinea worm, we have the drugs to treat intestinal helminths … we can really interrupt transmission. We can make a difference with the tools we have in our hands.”
President Kufuor chimed in, “our goal is to seek solutions.” Speaking from his experiences in making NTD and WASH advancements as President of Ghana, including tremendous strides in the effort to eliminate guinea worm, President Kufuor noted that behavior change was critical, including “show[ing] [people] how to boil water.” President Kufuor also stressed that the successes he oversaw were due to implementing policies that educated the public and provided infrastructure, and knowing when to “seek international help.”
Dr. Besser then asked Kathy, “Why does HKI think this is an important problem to tackle?”
Kathy answered that STH infections are “incredibly disabling” and threaten worker productivity, children’s attendance in school and the ability of children to achieve. We’re “really talking about the posterity of the country unless these diseases are tackled,” Kathy said.
Dr. Besser then asked President Kufuor about the widespread impact of intestinal worms. President Kufuor stated, “Worms prevent kids from getting full benefits. … The economy isn’t well when people have worms. … We tackle the problem from the source.”
President Kufuor also touched on a devastating consequence of STH infections: the impact on pregnant women and their babies: “Even with mothers, if they do not look after themselves well with what they eat, what they drink, then the fetus will not mature the way it should.”
Addressing the economic impact, Dr. Besser asked Dr. Savioli, “What evidence is there that these type of control efforts make a difference?” Dr. Savioli recognized that there is huge economic growth occurring in Africa, and that “those countries doing best in the African continent with NTDs are the ones that are doing better economically.”
Asking Kathy about whether it’s “idealistic to think that you can accomplish cross-sector integration,” Dr. Besser said, “Can it happen?” To which Kathy responded, “Nothing can happen unless you work cross-sectorally.”
Wrapping up the interviews, Dr. Besser asked, “If the MDGs don’t list NTDs, what does that mean?”
Dr. Savioli noted, “We need to put pressure to make sure that happens” and that, thanks to “a unique relationship between international organizations, NGOs, endemic states and the private sector,” we have a “historically unique” opportunity “in the history of public health.”
Kathy shared that we need to go beyond the drugs, giving the example of HKI’s partnership with Johnson & Johnson to develop curriculums in education – hand washing, face washing – in Cambodia to realize tremendous successes.
It’s no wonder that after the interviews and audience Q&A, Dr. Besser said, he has “about 50 more questions [he] would love to ask” and that we’re “fortunate to have such different perspectives on this problem.” STH is different in that the solution is known, and that “it’s a problem of will and resources to implement the solution,” Dr. Besser concluded.
In his closing remarks, Dr. Savioli stated, “We have the scientific evidence that when you treat people regularly, the morbidity goes down.” However, “countries have to be at the center of it” because “countries that have done well have performed better” in economic, health and other development markers.
“You deprive the country if you don’t do it,” Kathy closed.
Thanks to all for such an engaging, thought-provoking event! We look forward to seeing how cross-sectoral collaborationcan make a difference in STH control and elimination in children.
Shawn K. Baker, interim director of nutrition in the Global Development Program at the Nick Kristof’s blog, Shawn highlights some of the most important success stories he’s witnessed.
“I have had the privilege of seeing first-hand how much good development assistance can do and the level of commitment and leadership that can be found on the ground,” Shawn writes.
One of Shawn’s success stories highlights the rapid progress made towards controlling neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) in Africa.
When speaking of these debilitating diseases, Shawn states, “These are not the headline diseases such as HIV or malaria, and have tongue-twisting names such as onchocerciasis, geohelmintiasis, schistosomiasis, lymphatic filariasis and trachoma.”
While NTDs do lack the attention given to other diseases like HIV/AIDS or malaria, the international community, NGOs, pharmaceutical companies and national governments are making tremendous progress in developing integrated plans to eliminate NTDs – and they’re succeeding.
According to Shawn, “In 2012 the five national programs in Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Mali, Niger and Sierra Leone treated over 90 million people, while other countries, such as Ghana and Uganda, and now Guinea are showing similarly impressive results. There is real hope that these diseases can be eliminated in our lifetimes.”
Shawn ends his piece by stating that complacency is not an option when it comes to eliminating NTDs, and that much still needs to be done for patients who have already reached the blinding stage of trachoma – one of the NTDs targeted by Helen Keller International.
To read the full post, click here.
Doug Steinberg, HKI’s Deputy Regional Director for West Africa, joins the team traveling with Nicholas Kristof. The picture to the left is Doug with Kalifa Doumbia, a community distributor of the drug, Ivermectin.
The village of Moli is located about 85 miles south of Niger’s capital Niamey on the edge of the Onchocerciasis (river blindness).
I just joined the HKI group traveling with Nick Kristof and the two “Win-a-Trip” winners, and we visited a village where mass drug treatment, Onchocerciasis has been brought under control, and no carriers have been detected since 1992. The young people are free of the disease, although there are a few older folks who suffer from it. One, Natchimou Bagna, now 47, was blinded when he was about 17 years old. Continue reading