HOPE works in more than 35 countries worldwide. Please enjoy our blog as we document the successes and challenges of our work to provide Health Opportunities for People Everywhere.
Susan Tussey is a family nurse practitioner from Pennsylvania, who spent two weeks aboard USNS Mercy in the Philippines in late June and early July as a medical volunteer for Project HOPE as part of Pacific Partnership 2016.
I spent two weeks as a medical volunteer aboard USNS Mercy in the province of Albay in the Philippines, moored at Legaspi City. The mission met the goal of working with partner nations to exchange and share best practices in health care, disaster preparedness, dental care, optometry, nutrition and veterinary care.
I joined two family practice physicians in several in-patient units on the Mercy as well as provided medical care alongside local providers in community health exchanges (CHEs) in three different locations: Ligao City, Duraga City and Tabaco City. Aiding with patient care at each visit were translators from LDS Charities, student nurses from Bicol Regional Medical Center, Blood Donor Nurses and the Philippine Army Nurse Corps. Between patients we were able to share the differences and the similarities with each nation’s health care population and education curriculum.
The age range at the CHEs ranged from infant to elderly, and basic health care (prevention and treatment of minor conditions) were provided. Because of financial strain, health care was often the last expense for the folks attending the CHEs.
Some interesting conditions were present that are not usually seen in the United States. One that stands out was a 9-year-old girl who had been brought in with a heel condition that had been present for six months. It turned out that she had probably stepped on an object that penetrated the heel and had a massive infection that required surgical intervention. Yet, she was not complaining one bit. After several lengthy discussions with her mother and grandmother regarding the urgency of seeking care in a hospital, it wasn’t totally clear that they would eventually seek care. Just as they were leaving, they asked to have another area checked and raised the back of the girl’s dress to expose a bump on her lower back. Amazingly what it appeared to be was an unresolved 10 cm oval-shaped meningocele – a condition that is usually taken care of at birth. She did not seem to have any neurological impairments from this and advised them that this also needed evaluation by a neurosurgeon.
The children we saw were in general very stoic, polite and cooperative – somewhat different from typical child health visits in the U.S. Most everyone at the CHEs received a hygiene kit with items that included toothbrushes, toothpaste, washcloths and soap. The Dental department brought along the “tooth mascot,” which was a big hit with the children. Some glasses were available from optometry, and physical therapy was available for musculoskeletal complaints along with nutritional advice and information.
The Filipino people we treated and trained were very appreciative of the collaborative efforts. They share their typical foods such as pancit, pork adobo, banana fritters, rice and foods not readily available in the U.S. such as mangosteen, santhol, and pili nuts. Meanwhile the Mayon Volcano, the longest active volcano in the Philippines, lurked in the distance. It majestic, perfect cone and constant steam trails hover over the area.
Overall, the experience was very humbling, but rewarding. I was glad to have been able to make a small difference in the population.
Strengthening Support in Private and Public Sector Systems
This year a series on breastfeeding in the Lancet affirmed the multiple benefits of exclusive breastfeeding for children and for mothers.
- Immediate breastfeeding within an hour after birth would significantly reduce neonatal mortality.
- Optimal breastfeeding could prevent over 800,000 deaths each year in children under 5 years of age.
- Breastfeeding improves cognitive performance of children.
- Women who breastfeed have a reduced risk of breast cancer.
The analysis also reports that breastfeeding would benefit the economic development of households and nations. Reduced health care costs and improved cognitive ability could help accelerate progress toward the Sustainable Development Goals, the theme of this year’s World Breastfeeding Week August 1-7, 2016.
Tragically, less than half of the world’s newborns benefit from early breastfeeding and even fewer are exclusively breastfed for the first six months. Women need support for breastfeeding both at home and at work.
To support women at the workplace, Project HOPE’s HealthWorks project, launched in 2012 with funding from Merck for Mothers, worked with factory owners and managers in five factories in Subang District near Jakarta to improve support for breastfeeding. The five factories employ over 11,000 women.
Indonesia has laws in place that protect women’s right to breastfeed, including mandatory provision of lactation rooms and breaks for working women. However, compliance with these laws in factories is low, less than 20 percent according to a 2014 survey in Jakarta conducted by the International Labor Organization. The report cited lack of awareness of the policy by factory owners.
A year after the project started, Project HOPE conducted a survey in three factories. The percentage of women breastfeeding went up by 15 percent in two factories that established or improved lactation rooms equipped with a refrigerator and breast pumps, and that created a new factory policy to encourage women to take lactation breaks. But more support is needed for exclusive breastfeeding at home. While breastmilk provides all the nutrition a baby needs for the first six months of life, many women continue to provide their babies with bottles of infant formula or other supplemental nutrition, sometimes provided by family members who care for the baby while the mother is working. This not only increases the infant’s risk of infection, it reduces the infant’s desire to breastfeed, which reduces the production of breastmilk. Additional counseling and education is needed for women and families about overcoming common misconceptions and breastfeeding problems.
In addition to the private sector, Project HOPE is also working with the public health services in villages to support breastfeeding through the Saving Lives at Birth project, funded by Johnson and Johnson in Serang District since 2012. Project HOPE is building the capacity of Health Centers to support exclusive breastfeeding as part of skills improvements during Basic Emergency Obstetric and Neonatal Care training. The project to-date has reached 41,000 mothers and infants and exclusive breastfeeding from birth to six months of age has risen from 28 percent to 58 percent during the program. In our continuing efforts to support optimal breastfeeding, we are training the government’s community health workers to bring breastfeeding counseling to households, ensuring families have the right information at the right time.
The world’s top HIV/AIDS experts are gathering in Durban, South Africa for the 21st International AIDS Conference - a meeting that fills me with hope that an opportunity is at hand to finally get the disease under control, but it’s an opportunity that is tempered with a little caution.
I am hopeful because the last time the conference was held in Durban in 2000, a moving experience for me personally, it was followed by real collective action around its theme “Breaking the Silence”, which was primarily about improving access to services and reversing widespread stigma and discrimination. I am also cautious in hoping for too much since we have known for some time what to do to bring the pandemic under control, yet that dream remains an elusive one.
At the time of Durban 2000, I was CDC’s Country Director in Botswana, which was a period of astronomical AIDS-related mortality and frustration throughout the region. Botswana had the highest HIV prevalence in the world. Funerals were a constant reality. The best and brightest segments of the population were dying at alarming rates – teachers, health workers, soldiers and police, businessmen, or anyone in which mobility affected their lives. President Bill Clinton had visited Botswana in 1998 and the word “AIDS” received no mention. A close colleague died from “that disease” and at the funeral in the home village relatives described how “demons had reached up from the underground”. Fellow African health professionals, whom I admired tremendously for their endurance, were quitting or refusing to care for AIDS patients because of the inevitable mortality they had experienced time and time again. It was hard enough to access an HIV test, let alone treatment. Highly active anti-retroviral therapy, or HAART, had been revealed at the AIDS conference in 1996 yet the cost of drugs at $5,000 per year put that hope out of reach for the masses. That was the frustration.
Durban 2000 was to change that. Nkosi Johnson, an 11-year-old South African child living with HIV/AIDS gave an impassioned and tearful speech, calling on the South African government to make treatment accessible, which it has, albeit with delays during President’s Mbeki’s tenure of deadly denialism about the causes of AIDS. Nkosi died soon after the conference. Speaking at the closing, President Nelson Mandela further inspired the audience and left us with a resolve to return to our countries and fight the war:
“…… We need, and there is increasing evidence of, African resolve to fight this war. Others will not save us if we do not primarily commit ourselves. Let us, however, not underestimate the resources required to conduct this battle. Partnership with the international community is vital. A constant theme in all our messages has been that in this inter-dependent and globalized world, we have indeed again become the keepers of our brother and sister. That cannot be more graphically the case than in the common fight against HIV/AIDS. ….” Nelson Mandela, 2000
Thanks to the leadership of President Festus Mogae, a former World Bank economist, Botswana became the first African country to roll out national programs. Other government officials heard the promise of anti-retroviral therapy (ART) and returned to lobby their countries to invest in testing, prevention of mother-to-child transmission, and comprehensive ART programs. Many have, like South Africa invest more than $2 billion per year in the epidemic. Many countries could do much better, such as those who rely excessively on external donors and invest little in their own epidemics from their own national budgets. There was a call in Durban 2000 for the formation of a “Global Fund” as a global financing mechanism, and indeed it was established through collective governmental and non-governmental action in 2002. And then President George W. Bush announced PEPFAR (The United States President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief) in his 2003 State of the Union Address, which with tremendous bipartisan Congressional support has been the largest investment in a single disease in history.
New HIV infections and HIV/AIDS-related mortality have since plummeted to record lows. But we must not forget the past when the high mortality rate was so visible, so tragic, so preventable, and so harmful to households, communities, and society as a whole. We must not forget the importance of placing stigma and discrimination, a major obstacle to access, at the top of the agenda and which will require more local leadership than ever. And we must not forget that, in Durban 2016, we now have the tools at our disposal to bring the HIV epidemic under control, unlike in Durban 2000.
Dr. Kenyon arrived in Shanghai, China this morning to visit with leaders of various health care institutions and explore ways in which Project HOPE may be of assistance in the future. This being his first visit to Shanghai, Dr. Kenyon also took some time to visit Shanghai Children’s Medical Center (SCMC), which Project HOPE helped establish and where we conduct several programs.
Dr. Kenyon, Linda Heitzman and I met with Dr. Huang Hong, Secretary General of the Shanghai Health and Family Planning Commission. Dr. Huang, who was a HOPE fellow at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin in 2003, praised Project HOPE’s work in Shanghai and in Dujiangyan City following the 2008 earthquake there. She also thanked Project HOPE for its support of SCMC, noting that the hospital in now well-known in China for providing excellent care to children with acute illnesses, especially congenital heart disease and cancer.
Dr. Huang shared with Dr. Kenyon some of Shanghai’s most pressing health challenges: acute infections that are mostly contracted from abroad, noncommunicable diseases due to improving economic development, and an aging population with higher incidences of diabetes, heart disease and cancer. It will be important for Shanghai to improve its community health service capacity. Shanghai has 2.2 million children aged 0-14 years; however, the city only has 3,200 pediatricians and around 3,200 beds for pediatric patients that must also accommodate some patients who travel to Shanghai for medical care who are from other areas.
In the afternoon, we met the Vice Mayor of Shanghai, Ms. Weng, Tie Hui at City Hall. It was an honor to meet the Vice Mayor given her busy daily schedule. Ms. Weng is very familiar with Project HOPE’s work in Shanghai, especially at SCMC. She thanked us for our support and mentioned that SCMC is a very famous pediatric hospital in China now. On behalf of the Shanghai government, the Vice Mayor thanked us for our vision and long-term, sustained support.
Ms. Weng outlined some of the local health issues. She said that the average life expectancy of Shanghai residents is about 82 years, and the health care system must provide good care for its residents and people from other provinces who seek advanced medical treatment in Shanghai. In addition to ensuring that Shanghai residents have sufficient health care services, the Vice Mayor also mentioned that the Shanghai government has spent 1 billion USD providing tremendous support toward health facility infrastructure development and health care worker training to eleven less developed regions of China. At SCMC, patients from less developed countries like Morocco also receive treatment. Shanghai’s support to Kashi City and four counties of the Xin Jiang Autonomous Region significantly improved maternal and child health and decreased the infant mortality rate by 20%.
Dr. Kenyon shared with the Vice Mayor that Project HOPE award Mr. Jian Zhongi, President of SCMC our 2016 Global Health Partner Award for his leadership and years of collaboration with Project HOPE in solving global challenges in pediatric health. Ms. Weng was delighted to know it. Dr. Kenyon also stated that SCMC’s success is based on its leadership’s vision and its staff’s diligent contributions. Dr. Kenyon is glad to know that SCMC has the capacity to help other regions of China and other countries to improve pediatric health care.
Dr. Kenyon also noted that the recent Chinese health reforms which emphasize primary care are important tasks for the government. While Project HOPE currently has a few projects in China – especially in pediatric asthma and adult diabetes care - he would also like to see Project HOPE help build a mechanism to enhance community health services and capacity.
Dr. Kenyon ended the visit with the Vice Mayor by saying that he is looking for further dialogue to find opportunities for future collaborations. The Vice Mayor said that the collaboration between Project HOPE and SCMC has lasted about 30 years, and Dr. Kenyon mentioned that he intends for Project HOPE to have further fruitful collaborations in Shanghai for the next 30 years.
Susan Opas is a pediatric nurse practitioner from Woodland Hills, CA who volunteered for Project HOPE on Pacific Angel 16-2, a humanitarian and civic assistance mission led by the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces working alongside their U.S., Thai, Vietnamese and Australian counterparts and volunteers from nongovernmental organizations like Project HOPE in Kampot Province, Cambodia. Susan treated pediatric patients at two makeshift clinics over the course of five days in mid-June 2016. Pacific Angel 16-2 was Susan’s sixth volunteer mission with Project HOPE.
The second site of this mission was truly within farmland. The fields in the area were wide open, growing sugar cane, rice, vegetables and coconuts. This area was more established than the first site, but the classroom (our clinic site) was filled with dirt and cobwebs and was dark as a dungeon. It took a lot of time to move desks and sweep with masks on to be ready. There were two small windows on each side of the room with little ventilation. The Air Force brought a generator and fans which worked until the fuel ran out. There was no electricity, so evaluating children in near dark was going to be difficult.
We were at this site for two days: June 17-18. Among the children’s diagnoses I provided were for another heart problem (hole between the ventricles), hernia, leg pain (growing pains), anemia, fever, headaches and dehydration, stomach aches, poor eaters, and minor skin issues. However, my teammates saw a teen post-motorbike accident who had two gaping wound and had been going to the local hospital every other day to be redressed. They also saw some major hernias, suspected TB, head trauma, a history of nose bleeds and all the other imaginable childhood issues we see at home.
At the end of the second day, a small group of us took sunglasses to the local hospital and got a tour. They have the basics. There is no central monitoring in the ICU. Patients share a large room. The newborn ICU consists of two isolettes. In the maternity ward, babies are in beds with the moms. In all cases, the families stay, provide basic hygiene care and bring food.
During the five days of this mission, we provided health assessments and minor interventions – antibiotics, inhalants, anti-inflammatories, wound cleansings, looking in ears and throats - to 3,486 patients. At the least they left with vitamins, a toothbrush and sunglasses.
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