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Health

An update on our response to COVID-19.

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The COVID-19 pandemic has posed significant challenges for the continuation and progress of The Hunger Project’s work throughout Africa, India and Bangladesh. Our innovative and integrated model of community-led development means that communities are empowered with the skills and knowledge needed to adapt and shift to challenging contexts and events with continued support and capacity building from The Hunger Project.

In working to build community resilience, leadership and ownership, our community partners are equipped to continue leading the way in implementing preventative measures to decrease the spread of the virus while supporting households to continue income-generating activities where possible, maintain food and water supply, and follow the advice and guidelines given by their governments.

Africa

  • Health clinics are remaining open. THP-trained Health Animators (local volunteer leaders) are working in partnership with the health clinics to disseminate information household-by-household. Clinics are also continuing to prioritise treatment of those who have serious health conditions and those who are HIV positive.
  • Rural banks are remaining operational where possible during this time with additional sanitation, safety and security measures in place.
  • Across each of our Epicentres, we are working with Animators and Epicentre Project Officers to continue our Water, Sanitation and Hygiene trainings and workshops. More than ever before, this program is vital to protecting our communities. In Benin for example, 1,200 Tippy Taps have been installed to increase the accessibility of hand washing facilities.

School students in Benin learning how to use Tippy Taps.

India

  • The Hunger Project is committed to working closely during the COVID-19 pandemic with Elected Women Representatives (EWR’s) across the 6 states where we already work. A task force has been established to get in touch remotely with every single EWR, as well as the Adolescent Girls Program participants, to spread awareness about keeping safe from COVID-19 and ensure no one is left behind. So far, they have reach 500,000 people!
  • The main priority is for every last person in The Hunger Project’s communities to have accurate information and understand what to do in the current situation.
  • EWR’s are active in monitoring the distribution of government entitlements, overseeing quarantine efforts and ensuring people are observing lockdown rules and sanitation.

EWR’s rallying to spread accurate information about COVID-19 to their communities. 

Bangladesh

The Hunger Project’s model of community-led development means that it is in a unique position where work is implemented by volunteers on the ground in villages. Volunteers are working to:

  • Mobilise thousands of community members via raising awareness with factual and accurate information on COVID-19
  • Provide sensitisation training on washing hands, good hygiene and social distancing – including the provision of soap where possible (pictured)
  • Ensure that people who are eligible for government support are connected to these benefits, and that people who are ineligible are instead connected with other locally available philanthropy funds

Providing soap to community members in Bangladesh. 

 

Training midwife assistants with the Ghana Health Service

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The Hunger Project-Ghana is partnering with the Ghana Health Service (GHS) to train Community Health Nurses (CHN) as midwife assistants to address the shortage of midwives at Community Health Planning and Services (CHPS) compounds in three regions across the country.

Supporting rural women and young children is crucial to The Hunger Project’s work, and ensuring safe and adequate maternal care is at the top of our priorities. Ghana’s maternal mortality rate is among the worst in the world, with an average of 300-500 deaths per 100,000 live births, according to 2015 UN data. The shortage of midwives and health services puts pregnant women and their children at heightened risk of delivery complications and mortality.

As part of The Hunger Project’s holistic, women-centred, community-led development methodology, this project supports work in 15 districts across three regions in Ghana – Eastern, Volta and Central – with funding from the Else-Kronner-Fresenius Foundation over the next two years. Communities will work to improve maternal health by providing 24-hour maternal and child care services in sub-districts to address the shortage of midwives.

Across The Hunger Project’s Epicentres in Ghana, community health committees assist in the operation of health clinics, which include pre- and post-natal care services. The health clinics are an integral component of our overall Epicenter Strategy across Africa. During the first three quarters of 2017, over 2,300 women accessed prenatal care at one of our health clinics. More than 11,000 people accessed health services of any kind at one of our clinics.

To learn more about this initiative, see related press coverage here and here.

Post courtesy of The Hunger Project Global Office.

Eliminating disease in Boffel

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When we recently visited the health clinic in Boffel (a remote village in Senegal), the committee there told us that the most common complaint people came to see them with was the flu.

Before The Hunger Project led community discussions about the importance of using mosquito nets, the most common complaint had been malaria and diarrhoea.

Along with educational talks, The Hunger Project made sure nets were accessible to the community and developed an action plan in collaboration with our village partners to help transform sanitation levels, cleanliness, skills and education.  Now people are using toilets instead of practising open defecation.  Because human waste is no longer contaminating the streets of the village, the incidence of diarrhoea and the spread of other diseases has decreased.

Before The Hunger Project came to Boffel a year ago, there were only 13 toilets in the village.  As part of the action plan, another 19 were built.  32 out of 35 households now have toilets in them and the health of people in the village is ever increasing.

The local sanitation team conducts check-ups in people’s homes, where they monitor for open defecation. Once per week, they do a village clean-up day; taking waste far from the village, to be burnt and the ashes buried.  The village is much cleaner now and children can play without the risk of infection and illness. They are healthier than they have ever been, so they can go to school and become Boffel’s leaders for generations to come.

Meet Alawatu

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Alawatu is a midwife in her local health clinic in the Coki village of Boffel.

Before The Hunger Project health clinic was established in Boffel, Alawatu had to deliver babies in people’s homes with no medical facilities or specialty care available to help her. Many women and babies died as a result. The health clinic has resulted in a dramatic drop in maternal deaths, to the point they have almost been eliminated completely!

Alawatu now provides pre-natal care to women in the clinic. When they’re ready to give birth, she then travels with them – by horse and cart – to the nearest hospital. If they go into labour on the journey, she is able to assist them in the delivery of their baby. When they arrive at the hospital they receive any extra medical care they need in order to keep themselves and their babies healthy.

After the women have given birth, Alawatu takes them back to the clinic in Boffel where she cares for them until they are ready to go home. The new mothers and babies get a check-up visit every Monday by staff from the clinic and The Hunger Project organises community discussions, cooking demonstrations and talks on various health, sanitation and hygiene issues.

 

‘HIV Animators’ reducing the spread of HIV/AIDS in Africa

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According to UNAIDS, more than 36 million people in the world are living with HIV/AIDS. It is estimated that half of those people are unaware of their HIV status.

In order to stop the spread of the disease, reduce the incidence of related deaths and remove stigma, it is essential that effective educational programs are widely accessible.

In Africa, our Epicentre programs trained over 91,000 people in 2016 to understand HIV/AIDS and gender inequality issues. Through this training, village leaders like Alesia from Ghana (pictured), gain the knowledge and confidence required to reach out to people in their communities, encouraging them to seek help in the form of testing and treatment.

Alesia, and her fellow ‘HIV Animators’, run workshops within their communities where they educate people about the causes and effects of the disease. They explain how gender inequalities fuel HIV infection rates and how HIV/AIDS can not only be treated but also prevented. ‘HIV Animators’ empower people with the understanding that they can put an end to the spread of the disease within their own communities.

The UN General Assembly holds a vision of moving toward ‘zero new infections, zero discrimination and zero AIDS related deaths’. By providing education, prevention strategies and treatment in highly affected communities we move closer to this vision. We see attitudes toward the disease change, stigma dissolve and a decrease in newly infected people.

Health Care and Vaccination – preventing deadly disease

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Health clinics within our Epicentre communities are providing essential vaccinations to protect children against life-threatening diseases that are entirely preventable.

Without vaccination, tens of thousands of children die every year from diseases like malaria, pneumonia, diphtheria, meningitis, whooping cough and more.

In Benin alone, approximately 30,000 children die every year from diseases that could have been prevented through vaccination, access to medical care and proper nutrition. Village leaders, like Fatimah, visit surrounding communities to talk to families about the importance of visiting health clinics when their children and family members fall ill.

She says – ‘Not many people believe they will find quality care so close time home. Most people wait, hoping their medical complaints will disappear, or until they are very ill. When that happens, they are often beyond our help. This is really sad.’

The first 1,000 days of a child’s life are critical in determining their long-term health. When they are vaccinated, treated for malnutrition, diarrhoea and dehydration, they not only survive, they are given the chance to grow into strong, healthy members of their community.

Developing awareness around the importance of vaccinations and disease prevention is integral to saving lives and developing self-reliant communities free from hunger.

As village leaders like Fatimah spread the word, more and more people come to visit the centres and receive medical treatment. As they witness the positive benefits of vaccination and medical screening, their mindset toward health care changes and they develop a vision for a future free from disease and hunger.

How Beti’s leadership is saving lives

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Beti Saket is an Elected Woman Representative in one of the most marginalised communities in India. When she was first elected to council, she found it difficult to make an impact. Every time she put forward a development proposal, a powerful lobby group pressured her to pay them a commission and regularly threatened to complain.

This all changed when Beti received leadership training from The Hunger Project. She learned to stand up for what she believed in and how to have her initiative approved and implemented. 

Beti saw that malnutrition was a big problem in her community and was determined to do something about it. Under Beti’s strong leadership, cases are now being efficiently tracked and mothers and children who are suffering from malnutrition are receiving counselling and given help at Nutritional Rehabilitation Centres.

Thanks to Beti, more than 75 malnourished children have been treated. 

Sunder, whose son was severely malnourished, is thankful to Beti and says, “Without her help, crucial time for my child would have been lost.”

Clean water and sanitation saves lives

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Unclean water supplies and poor sanitation are still amongst the biggest threats to many peoples’ health in developing regions.  With up to 950 million people worldwide still practicing open defecation and up to 2.5 billion people living without adequate sanitation, vast improvements are yet to be made.

In India, 80% of disease in rural areas can be traced back to contaminated water and poor sanitation.   The government has responded by promising to provide 60 million homes with sanitary toilets by 2019.  However, past attempts to improve sanitation in affected areas, has taught us that simply providing people with sanitary facilities (such as toilets) is not effective in changing deeply ingrained practices (such as open defecation).

The best way to initiate sustainable change is to run community-led programs, where village leaders and volunteers are taught to; research what their community needs, understand the dangers of poor sanitation and integrate new systems within their villages from the ground level.  Village leaders learn how to approach local governments and to work with them toward providing the infrastructure necessary to make the improvements.  They are simultaneously trained to lead educational programs within their communities, that change belief systems and practices to ensure the new facilities are assimilated successfully.

Through training with The Hunger Project, our village partners learn that clean water and sanitary practices are essential to their survival and they become proactive in implementing the necessary changes themselves.  They are empowered to ensure their human rights are being met and in response they learn to;

  • Install water tanks and pumps that provide clean water to families
  • Develop new water sources and conservation practices
  • Build and maintain bathrooms
  • Educate their community about sanitation and associated health benefits

Fathimath and Justin save lives at their health clinic

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At Lahotan Epicentre in central Benin, The Hunger Project-Benin is working with the local community to staff and expand a small health clinic and to promote its services among community members.  

Fathimath Omighessan, 28, is an epicentre midwife who has worked at the clinic for a year, alongside two assistants and a guard. At regular intervals, a doctor is present at the clinic as well. Before she arrived in Benin, Fathimath had a job in a private clinic in Togo, a neighboring country. Her previous clinic was equipped for surgery and she is accustomed to providing complex care. When people are in the epicentre clinic for more than two days, Fathimath knows when to refer them to a larger hospital.

At first, patients were slow to come to the clinic. “Not many people believe they will find quality care so close to home. Most people wait, hoping their medical complaints will disappear, or until they are very ill. When that happens, they are often beyond our help. This is really sad,” said Fathimath.

To change the community perception of the Epicentre Clinic, Fathimath partnered up with Justin Dividé, the Chairperson of the Health Committee at the Epicentre. All six committee members are volunteers at the clinic and are educating their own villages on the importance of prenatal care.

“Justin truly is my right hand. Or, no, really, he is my right arm! He often accompanies me on house calls, for instance, because the people around here tend to take him more seriously than an outsider, like myself. Last year we visited every surrounding village to explain what we offer in the clinic,” said Fathimath.

“It’s for the well-being of my village, so Fathimath can always call on me when she needs my help. I am glad I have been able to convince people of her qualities,” Justin adds.

Today, more and more people are beginning to use the clinic, which is making a significant impact on the surrounding villages. Community members can deliver their children and be treated much closer to home. By using the health clinic instead of driving to a larger hospital, community members are also able to save money. In addition to requiring less gasoline to get to the clinic, community members don’t need to purchase food during their hospital stay, being close enough to cook at home and bring food to the clinic. Newly pregnant couples are now asking the clinic to acquire an echo-scanner, so they can find out if they are carrying a boy or a girl.

As her second half-year contract draws to an end, Fathimath is uncertain if she’ll be offered a permanent contract to remain with the clinic. However, when asked if she would like to stay at such a small clinic, Fathimath said, “Yes, I really hope I will be able to stay. I have a nice house here, where I live with my son. But more importantly, when people start visiting the clinic, I feel I can really make a difference here, for instance, by advising mothers on food for their children.”

Report by Evelijne Bruning

Photo credit Johannes Odé