From the high seas of Southeast Asia, to the crowded cities of South Africa and beyond – our volunteers and global health experts led the way with lifesaving programs in 2012. As the new year fast approaches, I am reflecting on the stories I heard as I traveled to our programs abroad this past year, and I'm looking ahead to our work in 2013, as we continue to meet critical health needs.
For one volunteer, this was an unforgettable year. Three decades ago, Danielle Pech Carson and her family fled the killing fields of Cambodia and the Khmer Rouge. Thirty-three years later, Danielle, an American-trained nurse and mother of two in Florida, returned to her homeland as a HOPE volunteer on the Pacific Partnership mission, the Asia-Pacific region's largest civic assistance program, in which HOPE volunteers served aboard the 1,000 bed hospital ship, the USNS Mercy. The ship also visited Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam and over 23,500 patients received care. Danielle had a poignant reunion with relatives in Phnom Penh and has plans to return.
Danielle was just one of more than 500 HOPE volunteers from the U.S. and local host nations who collectively spent a staggering 5,205 days assisting patients, performing surgeries and teaching people, from Peru to Vietnam, how to build healthier communities.
In South Africa, I saw the lifesaving impact of our diabetes education in a poverty-stricken township called Zandspruit, outside Johannesburg. I met a woman who was living with the extremes of high blood pressure. At 100 mm Hg above normal, she was a prime candidate for a stroke. I’m convinced that our diabetes educators at the HOPE Centre in Johannesburg saved this woman’s life. In sub-Saharan Africa, diabetes was once rare, but it’s now estimated that more than 12 million people in the region have this disease. The HOPE Centre, in partnership with Eli Lilly and Company, is bringing health education and medicines to struggling communities in South Africa.
China also is dealing with a growing incidence of diabetes and other chronic diseases. On my recent trip to Shanghai, I heard about Mr. Cao, a 67-year-old retiree of Shanghai’s Feng Xian District, who was shocked to discover that he was at high risk of stroke and coronary heart disease. HOPE’s health education program in community health centers throughout the region, funded by Philips Healthcare, is teaching thousands of people like Mr. Cao how to adopt a healthier lifestyle by reducing sodium, eating more fiber-rich foods and getting exercise.
Much to his wife’s delight, Mr. Cao told her that our health education classes persuaded him to make healthier food choices and to exercise regularly. He stopped smoking and drinking alcohol. Mr. Cao even promised his wife to cut back on his stress-inducing poker games, but Mrs. Cao says she’s not holding her breath!
At year’s end, it’s time to rejoice! Project HOPE will celebrate its 54th birthday at the end of the month, after a long journey of humanitarian assistance and health education, ever since HOPE's inaugural voyage to Ambon Island in Indonesia in 1960. For certain, the world is vastly different today, but the health needs of communities in the developing world are as daunting as ever. Fighting the global explosion of diabetes and other chronic diseases; teaching effective HIV/AIDS prevention in schools in Africa to help the continent’s most vulnerable citizens – its young – become smarter about health; and preparing communities worldwide to respond to health needs after the next natural disaster are all at the top of HOPE’s list.
There’s much to be done in the year ahead, and we here at HOPE, will continue in our efforts to engage in sustainable solutions to the world’s most critical health needs.
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