(Photo: European Commission DG ECHO/Flickr/Creative Commons)
The World Health Organization declared the Ebola outbreak in West Africa officially over this past week. The Ebola epidemic that swept through Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and into Nigeria last year highlighted the importance of rapid response, and strong health infrastructure. Credited for halting the spread of the virus more widely in Nigeria was the Polio tracking system and stations already put in place by GAVI (Global Vaccine Alliance). Unlike the surrounding countries, Nigeria was able to use that already existing health care network and alert system to quickly track down possible exposures. Also highlighted by the outbreak was the importance of nutrition in preventing disease to begin with. Well-nourished children have much stronger immune systems than malnourished children, and are more resilient to bounce back when they do get sick. Sustainable Development Goal number two is zero hunger, a global priority since WHO estimates that malnutrition is the underlying cause in half of child deaths world wide.
I knew that malnutrition made immune systems vulnerable, but working with a local non-profit specializing in the treatment and prevention of child malnutrition on a global level has given me new insight into just how critical proper nutrition is for the individual, and the world as a whole. You might be surprised to learn that the second largest producer in the world of a nutritionally fortified peanut paste used to treat malnutrition called Plumpy’Nut is located in the smallest state in the USA. Edesia is a non-profit that partners with organizations on the ground such as World Food Program, UNICEF and USAID to offer treatment and malnutrition prevention solutions to those who need it most. Countries such as Sierra Leone and Liberia had been receiving shipments of Edesia’s products long before the Ebola outbreak, where malnutrition was already an issue for many children before the virus hit. In the countries of Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone the compounded crisis of child malnutrition was both a contributing factor, and then a cruel aftereffect of the Ebola epidemic.
Rhode Island infectious disease specialist Dr. Tim Flanigan, who traveled to Liberia in August of 2014 stated that
“More people were dying from malnutrition and other medical illnesses than from Ebola.” even at the height of the outbreak. “ So many infectious diseases are intertwined with malnutrition to begin with.”
The communities impacted the hardest were already fragile when the virus hit.
Dr. Flanigan explained, that the countries impacted by Ebola were some of the poorest countries on the continent. After years of civil wars, the destruction of the infrastructure had already made it a challenge for people to get enough to eat. Hunger, malnutrition, and starvation were already common realities in these vulnerable populations. All efforts and resources available then went to tackle Ebola when it hit, leaving any of the already challenged social services in place, like school meals or vaccine clinics, to flounder. When 20-day quarantines of people in homes with no running water, or electricity, (meaning no refrigeration for food), were instituted in some households, malnutrition rates were bound to soar.
Children are often the most vulnerable population in crisis scenarios, they are at much higher risk of disease when malnourished, even if they escape succumbing to any number of viral threats malnutrition puts them at risk of never growing to their full potential. The products produced in Rhode Island at Edesia, such as Plumpy’Nut and Plumpy’Sup, can literally save the lives of these children. In just 6 weeks on average a child suffering from Severe Acute Malnutrition, or SAM, can get back to their full healthy weight when treated with Plumpy’Nut. Last year Edesia reached nearly a million children. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimate is that nearly 795 million people (out of the 7.3 billion world population), so 1 in 9 people, suffered from malnutrition during 2014-2016. The goal at Edesia is to reach as many children as possible to help them thrive, and that means being prepared to react when the need arises. One of the essential building blocks to good health is proper nutrition, and a healthy community is a more resilient community. We saw how effective it was in the case of Nigeria and the Polio network to have systems in place when disaster strikes. The investment in global nutrition not only can help to prevent future outbreaks of disease, but ensure that all children have the opportunity to grow into healthy, productive adults.
What are some of the other lessons that this outbreak Highlighted?
This is an original post written for World Moms Blog by Elizabeth Atalay who also writes at documama and is the Digital and Social Media Specialist at Edesia.
The Author’s Mother
She had one leg shorter than the other. Not in such a glaringly obvious way that one would immediately notice, but you could tell if you studied her walk or she pointed it out to you, like she did to me when I was little.
I couldn’t fully understand the story as a child, but my mother had contracted Polio when she was around three years old, and almost died. I remember that part because she had two names. Mildred was the name she was given at birth, and Goldie was the name she was re-named after she had recovered, as is customary in the case of near death experiences in the Jewish religion.
By the time I was born, the Polio vaccine had been developed and was administered widely to children in the United States. Polio was nearly eradicated in this country by then, and so the story of my mother’s near death from Polio became to me a long-ago folk tale from her childhood.
Sadly, that has not been the case for the rest of the world. Sure the numbers have dropped 99% since 1988 when there were 350,000 known cases around the world, to the 218 reported cases in 2012. Still, the fact is, that as long as Polio remains in even one child, children the world over are at risk of contracting the disease. The victims of the highly infectious Poliomyelitis virus that attacks the nervous system are usually children younger than five years old.
World Moms Blog is working with GAVI Alliance to create an international documentary to raise awareness of the importance for life-saving vaccinations for children in developing nations.
We plan to do this through the “GAVI Global Tea Party”, created, here, at World Moms Blog. A team of contributors from World Moms Blog host a party and discuss the significance of vaccines and plan on spreading the word to advocate and support saving the lives of chidden in developing nations.
I eagerly accepted World Mom Blog’s founder and Shot@Life supporter, Jennifer Burden’s, invitation to host a party in India at my residence because I believe in GAVI. I believe in what GAVI supports. I believe that every child should have a chance at life. I know that somehow saving a child’s life is very important in the evolution of the planet. It all started with an email from Jennifer with a very glamorous subject, “Would you like to be a movie star?” Wow, Yes, for this important cause I would, wouldn’t I?
I started planning. I had to first find a videographer. I put up a status messages on Facebook. I asked around to all my friends and made them put up status messages, too. This went on for a month, and I almost gave up. One day, a childhood friend and photographer told me that he knew a videographer who would be willing to help. So, Srinivas and I started talking and things clicked. The party was meant to be!
I called up a few friends and gave them the background of this party and more importantly, why I support this cause. There is at least one child dying every 20 seconds due to a vaccine preventable disease, and we could do something to stop it. The enthusiasm was contagious and all of them said yes to the party. I had a star guest for the party too – my own 90-year-old grandmother who is a mother, a grandmother and a great-grandmother too. Yes, oh yes, the party was taking shape!
I was still feeling nervous and so edgy that I emailed Jennifer at least 25 times on the day before the party. This wonderful woman replied to every one of the mails as soon as she received it. It must have been the middle of the night for her. Yes, she did not sleep the whole night, stayed up and calmed every one of my fears.
I made notes. I was absorbing all the information available about GAVI and vaccinations. I was worried about the conversation flowing around during the filming of the party. What if we came to a standstill, where no one was speaking? What if everyone started speaking about playdates and tantrums and picky-eating and we lost the main focus? What if? What if? What if?
In the end, the party took on a life of its own. The GAVI videos we saw were such great conversation starters. We saw a video about a mother losing her child in Nicaragua and another one about diarrhea and pneumonia in Sierra Leone. We take so much for granted here, but at least 45% of deaths are due to just these two diseases, which are apparently not even killer-diseases if managed properly.
My friends were moved with the Sierra Leone video. My fears were put to rest when I just listened to my friends speaking from the heart about how they strongly felt the need to support the cause of vaccination. I just had to allow them all to feel. The conversation then steered towards India being declared Polio free by WHO. My 90-year-old grandmother was the star of the movie, I should say. Look at this collage below to know how it all went.
Party with a purpose!
Most of the guests took the spirit of GAVI back with them. They said they were going to speak about it with their colleagues and friends.
I should thank all my friends and my grandmother for the success of the party. Her presence and words were strong enough, and her wisdom was truly noteworthy. Her words set the tone for the party –
“One generation’s effort in strictly adhering to the immunisation schedule will carry on for all generations to come, to help eradicate a particular disease. That is how small pox and polio were eradicated in India.”
(In her children’s generation small pox was eradicated, and in her grandchildren’s generation polio was eradicated). In her times and her children’s time all this was done by only the government in whatever way it could, by the personal interest of some physicians and a few people only. But today she feels that organisations like the GAVI Alliance and Shot@Life with a great public appeal and huge voices are a god sent blessing, indeed.
GAVI affected everyone’s lives that day including our children. Check out the below photo of them chorusing, “We want a disease-free world.”
“We want a disease-free world”, the children’s chorus.
I started viewing GAVI with a different perspective myself.
Indian Vedic texts say that the human life is the highest form of life and evolution at its peak. And blessed is a soul to be born as a human being and while he/she is given a chance at it, definitely efforts must be made to preserve life, nurture it and utilise it to the maximum benefit.
We had four generations of people assembling that day to help humanity and make this world a better place in their own tiny way. Though I hosted the party,though my grandmother’s wise words set the tone of the party, I think it was a team effort by all of us here – World Moms Blog contributors, our fans and readers for supporting our causes of social good and advocating for organisations like the United Nations Foundation, their Shot@Life campaign and the GAVI Alliance. We are all here striving to make this world a happy, healthy and peaceful place.
This is an original post to World Moms Blog by Purnima, our Indian mother writing from Chennai, India. Her contributions to the World Moms Blog can be found here. She also rambles at The Alchemist’s Blog.
A team of World Moms Blog contributors have been hosting GAVI Global Tea Parties around the world to help launch an international grass-roots effort of advocacy for life-saving vaccinations for children in the developing world. The parties are being filmed for a documentary. If you are also interested in hosting a party of your own, please drop us a mail at worldmomsblog[at]gmail[dot]com.
Photo credit to the author.
Actress, Amanda Peet, with World Moms Blog Founder, Jennifer Burden, in Times Square in NYC advocating for Shot@Life, life-saving vaccines for children in developing countries.
In January, World Mom’s Blog’s advocacy for global health and children began offline at the pilot grass-roots party thrown at my house for the UN Foundation’s new Shot@Life campaign.
For the first time, at that party, I talked candidly in front of my friends and my mom about why the movement for life-saving vaccines for children in the developing world resonated with me.
It was a difficult, personal story for me about my many pregnancy losses, how desperate I felt and how I want to prevent mothers around the globe from ever having to feel that desperate, tragic feeling. There are mothers in the world losing their children to diseases that we have the know-how to prevent. And I want to help.
I have since shared my story at a UN Foundation Volunteer Summit in Washington, D.C. and at my friend Jodi’s grass-roots Shot@Life Party in New Jersey. But, this past Friday was, well, a little different…
I accepted an invitation from the UN Foundation to open my heart and speak for a larger audience in NYC at the launch of the Shot@Life Public Service Announcement (PSA) on the big Toshiba Screen in Times Square. (more…)
Five and a half years ago, my husband and I found out we were pregnant with our first child, and we were ecstatic. There was so much planning to do. We had to decide on a name for a girl and one for a boy since we chose not to find out what we were having. We had to figure out how long we could afford for me to stay at home with the baby, and what we would do for childcare once I returned to work.
We had to assess whether or not our cars were appropriate for a newborn and all of the items they require (which, by the way, one totally wasn’t). And, one of the major decisions we had to make was whether or not we would circumcise our baby if we had a boy. (more…)