By Dr. Mirta Roses Periago, NTD Special Envoy
Next week, from May 28th to 30th, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper will host a summit on maternal, newborn and child health (MNCH) in Toronto, Canada. Titled “Saving Every Woman, Every Child: Within Arm’s Reach,” the summit will bring global leaders and experts together to ensure that MNCH remains an international priority – not only for Canada, but for all countries.
This summit is extremely timely due to the close 2015 deadline of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and with the global community refining the priority themes to include into the post-2015 development agenda. As Canada prepares to launch its renewed MNCH strategy and as governments adopt greater collaboration through public-private partnerships, the Global Network is calling on the Canadian government, NGOs, research organizations and the private sector to include action against neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) within their new MNCH framework and global health and development priorities.
NTDs are a group of 17 parasitic and bacterial infections with a larger extension since they affect more than 1 billion people worldwide. Soil-transmitted helminths (STH or parasitic infections) such as hookworm can cause severe anemia and contribute to pregnancy complications in women and severe malnutrition in children. Schistosomiasis infections keep young girls and women in a vulnerable situation for HIV/AIDS infections. And the impact of NTDs stretches far beyond the health sector – they also impact educational achievement, food security, economic growth and gender equality.
NTDs pose a threat to the development of endemic countries by trapping the most vulnerable populations in cycles of poverty and disease, and by undercutting ongoing efforts to achieve the MDGs. The control and elimination of NTDs will be critical to eradicating poverty and to attaining the Sustainable Development Goals set by the post-2015 development agenda process.
The Canadian government has been a strong leader in global MNCH efforts, as evidenced through the widely successful Muskoka Initiative. Announced by Prime Minister Stephen Harper at the G8 Summit in June 2010 in Toronto, the Muskoka Initiative has advanced the critical goals of improving the health of women and children in developing countries and reducing the number of preventable deaths. By 2015, Canada will have dedicated $2.85 billion to this initiative, focusing on three priorities: strengthening health systems, reducing the burden of disease and improving nutrition.
Programs that address NTDs are “best-buys” in global health. Providing deworming medication for parasitic infections, along with other MNCH interventions such as iron supplements and vitamin A, can help reduce anemia and malnutrition improving the overall health of mothers and children. A golden opportunity exists for Canada to collaborate on NTDs with the private sector, which has stepped up to donate the drugs needed to prevent and treat worms and other NTDs.
NTDs inclusion into Canada’s MNCH and international development strategy can make a real difference in the results achieved in a short and mid-term period. This would lead the way for other countries, both donor and endemic, to make a political and financial commitment to end these diseases of poverty. Together, under this leadership, we will be able to reach the goals of the Roadmap on Neglected Tropical Diseases, thus moving closer to eradicating poverty, and saving and improving the lives of mothers and children worldwide.
This Sunday is Mother’s Day, and in honor of this important holiday, moms around the world will be showered with gifts and appreciation for their love and tireless work. But shouldnt mothers be honored every day? Moms feed us, encourage us and care for our health before we’re even aware of its value.
This past week, I had the fortunate opportunity to meet several moms during my trip to Honduras with the END7 campaign. At health clinics in Tegucigalpa, El Triunfo and Marcovia, I saw moms who were placing their children’s health above all else. Despite the lengthy lines, the 95 degree heat and the long walks to the local clinics, these moms were determined to provide their children with the much-needed deworming medicine that rids their bodies of harmful parasitic worms.
I saw mothers soothing their children as they struggled to swallow the deworming medicine.
I saw mothers laughing and smiling with their children – celebrating their health.
And I saw mothers who were proud – holding their children up for the rest of the clinics’ visitors to see.
The children and mothers I met in Honduras were happy and thriving because of the deworming medicine and vaccines provided to them by local health clinics. Treating NTDs can positively impact the health of mothers and their children by reducing anemia, improving nutrition and strengthening a mother or child’s immune system so they are able to fight off other diseases. But without deworming medicine, mothers and their children are susceptible to a variety of health complications and a poor, unfulfilled quality of life.
So this Mother’s Day, take a moment to thank you mom for all she’s done to keep you healthy, and take another for moms around the world who are contributing to the fight against NTDs.
Part three of our four part series featuring award-winning producer Jessica Stuart’s stories from the field:
Wednesday, June 22nd, 2011 Karuzi
We travel 4 hours of bumpy, dusty roads- passing through tea plantations, getting into traffic jams with cattle, to reach the Karuzi Province. This is a place that doesn’t often have outside visitors, so the cars themselves were a spectacle of mass proportion; not to mention the blonde sunburned woman and the tall South African man with sound gear strapped to him.
We visited a school called Canzikiro and were greeted by thousands of smiling faces. And yet, I am great crowd control because children think I am a ghost or an angel, they either run away or run to me!
We spoke with a teacher and she enthusiastically told us that she sees more children coming to school because they are healthy and because their families are healthy. She has seen a difference of children paying attention in class and able to focus. The teacher, herself was pregnant. She miscarried the first time, possibly due to anemia from worms herself, but is looking forward to the birth of her first baby next month. There is possibility.
In the afternoon we traveled down more bumpy roads to Bugenyuzi,, a community with approximately 11 percent of the population suffering from Trachoma. This is a new program and the inhabitants of this community press us for more. They want to know when we are coming back, when the next round of medicine is coming, and how we can help stop the suffering. The area we are in is difficult to get to. The word “remote” doesn’t do justice to its location. These are the bottom billion. These are the poor that are rarely reached, stuck in a cycle of poverty, yet with a desire to do for themselves. They just need a lift, a boost; and we can do that for less than 50 cents. The drugs are there. The knowledge is there. We can eliminate NTDs even from the places and in the corners no one is looking.
That evening, we sit down to a goat brochette, a gin and tonic and a cold shower from a bucket and a cup. There are no mosquito nets, so I sleep with my hooded sweatshirt on, a half bottle of DEET burning my skin, and hope for the best.Malaria is the least of my worries at this point.
Today at the United Nations Secretary-General Ban-Ki-moon expresses the impact of addressing issues affecting mothers and children:
Every woman, Every Child. This focus is long overdue. With the launch of the Global Strategy for Womens and Childrens Health, we have an opportunity to improve the health of hundreds of millions of women and children around the world, and in so doing, to improve the lives of all people.