Save the Children targets the major causes of maternal, newborn and child deaths and provide the best health and nutrition programs to save children’s lives and ensure they grow up healthy.
Save the Children is able to improve maternal, newborn and child health, help end child malnutrition and hunger and prevent HIV transmission, and ensure treatment for those living with HIV before they develop (or to prevent) AIDS — giving 86 million children a healthy start in life and helping 33.3 million children directly with lifesaving care, medicines, preventive treatments and so much more.
Written by Carolyn Miles, President & CEO, Save the Children
Yemen is currently experiencing the largest humanitarian crisis in the world. More than two-thirds of the population is in need of humanitarian assistance, with one-third in acute need. Of the 22.2 million people in need, more than five million are women of reproductive age, including an estimated half a million pregnant women. Before the current crisis escalated in March 2015, the average fertility rate was four children per woman and the lifetime risk of maternal death was one in sixty. In only 30 other countries do women face a greater chance of dying due to complications of pregnancy or during childbirth. Access to family planning is limited with only 20 percent of women using a modern contraceptive method and a high unmet need for contraception of 33 percent.
In the dire context in Yemen, Save the Children staff work tirelessly to support children and their families, and we are so pleased that our family planning team that includes was recognized for the work they do in the face of tremendous adversity. At the International Conference on Family Planning, our Yemen team was awarded an Excellence in Leadership for Family Planning Award for their “significant contributions to the family planning field.”
Since the beginning of 2013, and through the escalation of the crisis, our reproductive health program has reached nearly 60,000 new family planning users through support to 16 health facilities in Hodeida and Lahj Governorates through funding from private foundation. The program has also expanded access to long-acting reversible contraceptives (intrauterine devices and implants) that are more effective than other methods and are often a good choice in humanitarian settings where supply chains may be disrupted. This high quality work was leveraged to secure a new two-year award for Save the Children from the U.S. Agency for International Development to strengthen family planning services in Yemen.
In addition to the recognition of our Yemen team, other Save the Children teams from Egypt humanitarian response for Urban Refugees in Cairo and Mali were recognized for their excellent work by winning “best poster” awards during the conference. Our submission was one of the twelve (out of 325 applications) named a finalist of the Quality Innovation Challenge sponsored by the Packard Foundation for a concept to pilot a digital, interactive contraceptive decision-making tool for young people in acute humanitarian emergencies in Somalia and Yemen. Through 41 posters and presentations, our staff demonstrated the positive impact our family planning programs have on the lives of children, adolescent girls, women and their families around the globe.
To learn more about how family planning saves lives and our presence at the International Conference on Family Planning, click here.
Written by Dr. Kechi Achebe MD, MPH, Senior Director, HIV/AIDS & TB, Save the Children US
World AIDS Day is held on the 1st December each year and is an opportunity for people worldwide to unite in the fight against HIV, show their support for people living with HIV and to commemorate people who have died. It is also an opportunity to remind the public and Governments that HIV has not gone away – there is still a vital need to increase awareness/education, access to testing and treatment, as well as fight prejudice.
Globally there are an estimated 36.9 million people living with HIV, as of 2017. 35.4 million people have also died of HIV or AIDS since the start of the epidemic, making it one of the most destructive pandemics in history. While scientific advances have been made in HIV treatment and this is very encouraging, there were still 1.8 million people who became newly infected with HIV in 2017 globally.
More saddening is the impact of HIV on adolescents. Currently, over 30% of all new HIV infections globally are estimated to occur among youth ages 15 to 25 years. Young people (10 to 24 years) and adolescents (10 to 19 years), especially young women and young key populations, continue to be disproportionately affected by HIV. There were 1.8 million children <15 years living with HIV in 2017 globally, while in 2016, 2.1 million people aged between 10 and 19 years were living with HIV and 260,000 became newly infected with the virus. AIDS is now the leading cause of death among young people in Africa and the second leading cause of death among young people worldwide.
As we commemorate the 30th World AIDS Day, Save the Children is making a global call for increased access to HIV prevention education, testing and treatment to adolescents. Save the Children is also joining UNAIDS and the global community to call for increased access to HIV testing and increased uptake of HIV testing, even amongst adolescents. This is to ensure that the 9.4 million people around the world who are unaware of their HIV-positive status can access treatment and that people who are HIV-negative can continue to protect themselves against the virus.
This will renew the possibility of an AIDS-free generation. We need to do more to show adolescents that their lives matter – regardless of their gender, race, sexual orientation, or socioeconomic status.
No one understands how breastfeeding can increase a child’s chance of survival the way a mother of a malnourished child does.
Did you know that undernutrition is estimated to be associated with 2.7 million child deaths annually or 45% of all child deaths.1 However, research estimates that breastfeeding saves the lives of over 820,000 children under 5 years old each year.
In fact, around one in eight of the young lives lost each year could be saved through breastfeeding,3 making it the most effective of all ways to prevent the diseases and malnutrition that can cause child deaths.4 Here’s why.
Breast Milk Is a Superfood
In the first hours and days of her baby’s life the mother produces milk called colostrum, the most potent natural immune system booster known to science.5 A baby who is breastfed colostrum receives significant protection against pneumonia and diarrhea, which are two major causes of deaths of children in poor countries. A child who is not breastfed is 15 times more likely to die from pneumonia and 11 times more likely to die from diarrhea. 2
If we can ensure that every infant is given breast milk immediately after birth, is fed only breast milk for the first six months and continues being breastfed through two years of age and beyond, we can greatly increase the chance that they will survive and go on to fulfill their potential.
Mothers Face Barriers to Breastfeeding
Additionally, because of the chronic shortage of health workers, many women in developing countries give birth at home without skilled help, or in a health facility where the health workers are over-stretched and under-trained. One third of babies are born without a skilled birth attendant present. As a result the opportunity for new mothers to be supported to breastfeed in the first few hours is lost.7
The Importance of Breastfeeding Support
A mother’s access to skilled breastfeeding support can have direct impacts on her ability and confidence to breastfeed. Breastfeeding isn’t easy for everyone, particularly in emergencies. In these times of difficulty, mothers need access to support. Skilled support as well as basic interventions that support mothers and their youngest children have a direct impact on her child’s survival. Here is the story of one such mother.
Sakariye*’s mum, Amran*, remembers the first time her son was seriously ill. “He was 15 days old. First, he had problems breathing, then he got measles,” she explained. Amran* did her best to care for Sakariye*. She tried to get him medicine. She tried to breastfeed him, but he continued to struggle.
A baby’s health is closely linked to its mother’s and so it was for Sakariye* and Amran*. When drought caused food shortages in Somalia where the family lives, Amran* did what any parent would do. She put her young children first.
“I wasn’t able to breastfeed Sakariye* because I was sick and malnourished,” says Amran*. She faced real challenges in feeding her child and lost her confidence in being able to feed Sakariye*. Amran* didn’t have access to skilled breastfeeding support that could have immediately referred her for health services and supported her with information and counselling on breastfeeding.
With limited available options, Amran* began introducing water and food to supplement her breastmilk. At six-months old, Sakariye* fell ill, getting frequent diarrhea. He started vomiting and having fevers. He grew so weak he couldn’t turn over any more. Amran* knew her baby was in danger. She brought him to Save the Children’s treatment center, where he was diagnosed with malnutrition and admitted.
Today, Amran* is sitting by her son’s cot on the ward. She’s smiling because she has seen big changes in him during the last few days.
“It is good we are here,” she says. “Sakariye* has started recovering. He takes injections and other medicines. They give him some nice therapeutic milk.” Sakariye* is getting stronger and so is his mum.
Amran* is able to breastfeed again and she is looking forward to taking her son home.
All across East Africa, babies and young children are at risk of malnutrition. Every day, more than 15,000 children around the world die before reaching their fifth birthday, mostly from preventable or treatable causes.9 A large, and growing, share of them are newborn babies in the first month of life.
Save the Children works with partners at global, national, regional, and community levels to prevent malnutrition by bringing a wide-range of multi-sectoral interventions and programs to disadvantaged families.
While our main target population is mothers and children, Save the Children’s strategies also include support for fathers and other caregivers.
Save the Children’s Emergency Health and Nutrition programs focus on lifesaving maternal, newborn and child healthcare, including breastfeeding promotion, protection and skilled support.
To learn more about the work Save the Children has done to celebrate breastfeeding awareness, visit our website.
2.Edmond, K M, Zandoh, C, Quigley, M A, Amenga-Etego, S, Owusu-Agyei, S and Kirkwood, B R, ‘Delayed breastfeeding initiation increases risk of neonatal mortality’, Pediatrics, March 2006, 117(3):e380-6↩
3. Mullany, L, Katz, J, Yue M Li, Subarna, K, Khatry, S, LeClerq, C, Darmstadt, G L,and Tielsch, J M, ‘Breast-feeding patterns, time to initiation, and mortality riskamong newborns in southern Nepal’, Journal of Nutrition, March 2008, 138(3):599–603↩
4.Source: UNICEF, World Breastfeeding Conference, December 2012↩
5. Uruakpa, F, ‘Colostrum and its benefits: a review’, Nutrition Research, 2002, 22, 755–767, Department of Food Science, University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, Manitoba, R3T 2N2, Canada.↩
Undernourished children in Yemen’s district of Hodeidah are far more likely to contract cholera should the disease spread quickly in the hot summer months. A new alert from Save the Children reports conditions are ideal for cholera to spread rapidly, with almost 3,000 suspected cases reported in the first week of July across the country – the highest number seen since the start of the year.
In Yemen, the poorest country in the Arab world, an estimated 2.9 million children and pregnant and lactating woman are acutely malnourished.1 Undernourished children are far more likely to contract cholera, as the disease causes violent vomiting and diarrhea. The disease is especially deadly for children under five years and those whose immune systems have been badly compromised by malnutrition.
Families in Yemen have already been through so much as war wages on for a fourth year. Children like Lina* are especially susceptible to the deadly effects of cholera.
At 8-months old, Lina* is already receiving treatment for malnutrition. Her parents brought Lina* to a Save the Children-supported health facility in Amran so a health worker could administer emergency treatment, including therapeutic food and medicine. “We are from a remote village,” Lina’s* mother explained. “We barely have anything. Lina* is in a weak state. We buy food as much as we can afford. I give them bread to manage their hunger. What can I do?”
Lina’s* family has been displaced for at least six years. Her parents have already lost two children to illness.
Save the Children is on the ground, working to provide children caught in the crossfire with access to food, health care, education and protection. We need your generous gift to support our efforts. Our relief in Hodeidah now includes treating children for life threatening conditions such as malaria and diarrhea. We’ve rehabilitated health centers and hospitals and provided equipment, medicines, and support to help keep the health system functioning.
Written by Nicolle Keogh | Photography by Peter Caton
Fathers play an important role by assisting mothers with Kangaroo Mother Care, a technique where skin-to-skin contact and breastfeeding offer newborn babies warmth and nutrition during the most critical stage – the first 24 hours. However, in many cultures, fathers are reluctant to participate in perceived maternal techniques.Here is the story of one such father and how he is working to redefine gender roles for Kenyan fathers.
In Nairobi, Kenya, William works as an assistant tutor to provide for his young family. Every morning, he prioritizes spending time with his twin babies in their one-room home before beginning his day.
“I always wake up around 5 a.m. so I can hold each of them before I start preparing myself for work,” he says of 7- month-old Audrey and Amber. He proudly adds that now that his girls are healthy 7-month olds, they squeeze in some playtime before he leaves home.
Holding both girls in his lap, he recalls his first weeks as a father, when he spent hours of each day praying for their health after they were born three months premature. Weighing about 3.5 pounds each at birth, Audrey and Amber spent over two months in the hospital while their health and weight improved. William visited every day after work, anxiously wondering during each taxi ride whether his newborns had lived to see another day.
In Nairobi, most hospitals face the challenge of not having enough incubators to meet demand, so it’s not uncommon to see four tiny newborns sharing one machine. When William arrived to visit his family at the hospital, he’d often learn of newborns in the same unit who hadn’t survived.
“I never held them when they were in the hospital because I was afraid and thinking, ‘What if I hold this baby, then the next moment she’s not there?”
Audrey and Amber responded immediately to KMC and began gaining weight at a rate of about 4 ounces per week. William was impressed by the progress but a common social stigma regarding traditional gender roles kept him from expressing his interest in KMC. “In the African culture, there is this thing that kids are supposed to be taken care of by the mom,” he explained.
After two and a half months of practicing KMC in the facility, Audrey and Amber were finally healthy enough to be discharged.
Once at home, William began assisting his wife with KMC. They’d spend their nights sitting side-by-side, each with a baby on their chest in Kangaroo position.
When they returned to the hospital for their first follow-up a week later, the twins’ weight had
increased by over a pound. William was convinced that he should continue as a key player in the twins’ KMC journey.
“One important thing that I’ve learned from practicing KMC is that even me, as a dad, I have a very big role to play with my kids,” William says. “Other than providing for them, I can also be part of bringing them up.”
William recognizes that his family is fortunate to live in Nairobi where KMC is practiced, and able to afford the public transportation fare to attend follow-up visits at the hospital. “If this program could reach people in the rural areas, it will make life a bit easier [for those people] and it will even make the world happy,” William said. “Because the joy of each and every family is to see the child come home from the hospital healthy.”
“Thank you very much for bringing this program to us,” William said. “It has taught us a lot, it has brought joy to my family. KMC is the reason why I can hold my babies, I can play with them, I can laugh with them. So all I can say is thank you very much.”
Health workers present when the baby is born can help the mother establish exclusive breastfeeding, and can support the mother to keep the baby warm through skin-to-skin contact – a technique known as Kangaroo Mother Care. Fathers play an important role by assisting mothers with KMC.
As a concerned parent, you are sensitive to the nutritional needs of your child, and that includes avoiding risk factors that could lead to malnutrition. Understanding the major causes of malnutrition can help you form good habits when it comes to your own health as a parent, as well as the health of your child. Here, we breakdown four major factors that contribute to malnutrition in children.
Poor Quality of Diet
Malnutrition, at its core, is a dietary deficiency that results in poor health conditions. We typically think of malnutrition as it relates to children not eating enough of the right foods. It can also occur when children eat too much of the wrong foods. Either way, more than 170 million children fail to reach their full potential due to poor nutrition.
Malnutrition can occur in children of all ages, but young children are the most vulnerable. The World Health Organization has stated that malnutrition is the single most dangerous threat to global public health . It contributes to 45 percent of deaths of children under the age of 5 . This is due, in part, to the critical importance of the first two years of a child’s life.
The largest window of opportunity for a child’s health occurs in the first 1,000 days-from the start of a woman’s pregnancy to her child’s second birthday. Mothers who are malnourished during their pregnancy can experience complications giving birth. Many children are born small because their mothers are undernourished. Severely malnourished mothers can also have trouble breastfeeding their infants.
Global health programs like the ones Save the Children supports works to help maternal, newborn and child health, which ultimately helps end child malnutrition. We work in many of the world’s poorest places, in the United States and abroad, to alleviate child hunger and prevent malnutrition. However, children living developed countries are still at risk for malnutrition if they are born into poverty.
Poverty is the number one cause of malnutrition in developing countries. Often times, families living in poverty lack access to fresh fruits and vegetables. Many communities do not have full-service grocery stores that regularly stock fresh produce.
Even if they do, fresh fruits and vegetables can be expensive. When fresh fruits and vegetables are out of reach for children, they can fill up on less expensive, less healthy foods.
Access to food and water has become a heartbreaking challenge— leaving thousands of Syrian children at risk for malnutrition. There are many ways to help Syrian refugee children. Your knowledge and support can make a world of difference for children around the world.
By Susan Warner, Senior Manager, Photography & Multimedia Production and
Claire Garmirian, Media Research Analyst
Susan: I made her cry, good tears. Transformative tears of love for the child in her arms. When I showed Rosa the photo I took of her and her granddaughter, she burst into tears. I knew then I had taken a good photo.
Claire: Rosa and I spent half an hour speaking in the director’s office on the second floor of the school. We gathered chairs together so that she, Ivonne from Save the Children Mexico and I could hear each other over the noise from below. The painted concrete patio where teachers lead students in experiential learning was beneath us and the sounds of preschoolers moving, counting and singing ricocheted up into the office. Amid all of this energy, Rosa shared the very personal details of her life with her granddaughter, Valeria*, and how she has found herself to be a primary caregiver for the four-year-old girl.
Susan: I don’t speak Spanish, nor have an ear for languages. I gesture, pantomime, demonstrate and rely on our local staff to help when I’m on assignment. I had asked Rosa to directly look into the eyes of her 4-year-old granddaughter.
Claire: As I listened to Rosa talk about her family, it became clear that she is a central figure holding many people together. She lives with her husband and son and daughter, both of whom have children of their own. Due to tensions between different members of the family, Rosa is a person who everyone can talk to. She sees the difficulties on both sides of the disputes. It sounded like her role could be tiring at times. She admitted that Valeria’s tantrums could make her feel desperate, but she also says she knows that they are a result of Valeria missing her mother, who no longer lives with her. As much as raising Valeria can be hard work, Rosa had endless stories about how intelligent and creative her granddaughter is. When I lost my words searching for a question, Rosa volunteered the story of her trip to the theater with Valeria. Valeria could repeat the song from the performance by heart after only hearing it once. And while Rosa’s speech was even throughout our conversation, it became energetic and expressive when she told me about Valeria’s drawings. It is obvious that she is amazed by her granddaughter’s imagination.
After our conversation, Rosa descended the stairs to join Susan on the school’s main level. They found a corner among the cacophony to take the tender portrait of the grandmother and granddaughter.
Susan: Through talking about her experiences in the interview and seeing the photos on the back of my camera, Rosa was emotional, in a positive way, overwhelmed by her love of her granddaughter. It was a touching experience to witness the love they shared. I had photographed her heart.
*Name has been changed for protection.
Valeria attends preschool in a rough neighborhood in Mexico City that is fraught with violence, drug gangs, and addiction. Save the Children’s HEART program has helped children in this community cope with their stress, anxiety, fears and anger from being exposed to these activities.
HEART (Healing and Education through the ARTs) uses the arts to help children affected by serious or chronic stress from their life circumstances of poverty, violence or other traumatic events. Through painting, music, drama, and other art forms, HEART helps children find new ways to share their feelings and fears, so they can express themselves in a safe environment with trusted adults and peers, and thrive in the classroom. When children share their feelings they begin the healing process.
Save the Children launched HEART in Mexico in 2016. In the first year of operation, HEART reached nearly 8,000 children affected by poverty, violence and migration in 5 provinces: Baja California, Chiapas, Mexico City, Oaxaca and Puebla. The education program is integrated into Save the Children’s programs existing school curriculums for children, including programs at preschools, early primary schools, child and youth centers, and summer programs, as well as migration prevention programs for children and teenagers.
Save the Children has operated in Mexico since 1973. Today, Save the Children serves children in 18 of Mexico’s 32 states, giving kids a healthy start, an opportunity to learn and protection from harm.
With the battle for West Mosul still raging, and ISIS increasingly using civilians as human shields as coalition airstrikes continue, many expectant mothers are fleeing for their lives – in some cases even giving birth on the run.
Layla* is just three days old and was born in the ruins of an abandoned house, with shelling and shooting all around. Her 17-year-old mother Rehab* was just days away from her due date when the fighting in her neighborhood got unbearable and forced her and her family to flee in the middle of the night.
Rehab fell repeatedly as they tried to escape and went into labor hours into the journey.
“I went into labor on the road. I was very scared for me and my baby but my mother and another older woman helped me,” said Rehab. “It was very quick, maybe just 15 minutes. We rested for about another 30 minutes and then we started running again.”
The family is now in Hamam Al Alil reception center, the main focal point for those fleeing Mosul, where more than 242,000 have been registered since the offensive began.
Most people are relocated quickly, but with thousands arriving every day and more than 320,000 people displaced since the Mosul offensive began six months ago, families, many with young children, are falling through the gaps.
Save the Children is distributing water, toiletries and newborn kits in the camps and have built and continue to clean latrines in the reception center.
Twenty-day old Lubna* has been in the center for almost two weeks. Her 15-year-old mother Reem* was in labor for more than two days but could not get medical care due to the fighting raging outside. The second she was strong enough, her and her mother Masa* fled with several other members of their family.
“Her delivery was very hard, very hard indeed, but there was nothing we could do because of the fighting. We wanted to leave Mosul,” says Masa.
“My brother has been killed and we wanted to go but Reem was too weak, so we stayed for five days and then we left and walked to safety. Thank God Lubna is healthy but we are very worried about her and that she will get sick in a place like this.”
Save the Children’s Deputy County Director Aram Shakaram says:
“The situation inside the reception center is extremely poor and there is a widespread shortage of food, water and blankets. Whole families sleep on nothing but cardboard, huddling together for warmth at night.
“Very young babies, many just days or weeks old are living in these conditions and their mothers, some who are as young as 15, are not getting the support they need.
“With 325,000 people still displaced since the Mosul offensive began and thousands still fleeing every day, it is imperative that we get more funding to support new mothers and their extremely vulnerable children who are starting their lives off in camps.”
Save the Children provides education and psychosocial support to children displaced from Mosul and our child protection teams work in the reception centers to identify cases needing urgent assistance, like unaccompanied minors.
Since the offensive began, we have distributed 3,740 newborn care packages, which have reached almost 11,500 infants. We have also distributed 7,000 rapid response kits that have reached almost 33,000 people and contain essentials like food, water and toiletries for the newly displaced. In addition we are also working to provide clean drinking water and basic sanitation to tens of thousands of people who have fled from Mosul.
To learn more about our response to the refugee crisis and how you can help, click here.
Imagine spending at least 20 hours a day, 7 days a week with a baby strapped to your chest.Imagine you must eat, sleep, work and care for your other children along with a tiny baby who depends on your continuous skin-to-skin contact and exclusive breastfeeding for survival. This is the basis of kangaroo mother care (KMC), a cost–effective intervention to help meet a premature or low-birthweight baby’s basic needs for warmth, nutrition, stimulation and protection from infection.
For Malawi, with the highest preterm birth rate in the world (18 per 100 live births), KMC is a critical lifesaving intervention.But too few premature babies receive KMC due to lack of awareness, limited resources, and stigma against both KMC and premature/low-birthweight infants. It is not surprising, then, that direct complications of preterm birth are the second leading cause of child deaths after pneumonia, and result in more than 14 newborn deaths every day in Malawi.
To commemorate World Prematurity Day 2016 on November 17th, Save the Children staff in Malawi accepted the KMC Challenge.Participants practiced KMC with a baby doll for 24 hours – holding the doll throughout work hours, around town and at home for the night. The challenge was accepted by other partners across the country and globe.
Jessie Lwanda, an IT coordinator said, “By doing this challenge, we are saying, ‘let’s give these babies a chance to survive by showing them love and carrying them close to our heart.’”
“I have a passion for every child to survive,” said Mavis Khondiwa, a Save the Children grants coordinator based in the United States.“Through this challenge I could understand what kind of burden those mothers with premature babies face. I really feel for them.”
Over the course of the day, 20 men and women got a glimpse into the life of a mother with a premature baby and all the issues it presents. “Through what I experienced as a man doing the challenge, I think women need more help,” said Nyashadzashe Kaunda, an awards management officer.“Men should also be taking care of the child and helping throughout the whole KMC process,” he said.
At the end of the 24 hours, colleagues returned the dolls and resumed their normal lives.For women around the country, it isn’t so easy, though,as their child’s life depends on their continued commitment to practice KMC until the baby reaches a healthy weight.In a country where neonatal mortality accounts for 40 percent of all death in children under age 5, it is everyone’s responsibility to champion KMC, and not just on World Prematurity Day, but every day.
Save the Children is helping shift norms around the value of newborns in Malawi through the government’s social and behavior change communication (SBCC) campaign,KhandandiMphatso(A Baby is a Gift: Give it a Chance), helping establish KMC “sites of excellence” in district hospitals, and collaborating with the Ministry of Healthto develop a national routine reporting system for KMC services in health facilities.
To learn more about our work to improve newborn survival, click here.
Alicia Adler is a program officer and Global Health Corps fellow with Save the Children in Malawi.
Our Emergency Health Unit in Kenya, working on cholera prevention.
Measles is a highly contagious, horrific disease. If left untreated, in a worst case scenario, it can lead to death.
There’s no specific treatment for measles: all that medics can do is isolate the sufferer, give them vitamin A, and hope for the best.
In high-income countries most people infected with the disease recover in a couple of weeks, very few die. But in developing countries it kills up to one in five.
A safe and cost-effective vaccine does exist. But families in remote areas, in countries with weak health systems, struggle to access it.
An emergency unfolds
Mayom County, in rural northern South Sudan, is one such place. A remote population in a country whose infrastructure has been crippled by civil war, no children have received routine vaccinations here for over two years. In January a few suspected cases of measles appeared, scattered around the main town. By the end of February, the county was in the grip of a fully-blown outbreak.
Nearly three quarters of the cases were children. If someone didn’t act fast, a tragedy of enormous scale was on the horizon: tens of thousands of children were at risk.
Previously in situations like this, we would have to spend time pulling together teams of specialists and supplies – a delay that costs lives. But last year we revolutionized the way we get medical care to children in emergencies, when we launched the Emergency Health Unit.
The unit is made up of fully-formed, world-class teams of medics on standby all over the world, ready to deploy within hours – complete with equipment, supplies, and logistics experts like me with the skills to get everything where it’s needed quickly.
When you have pre-positioned supplies you don’t have to spend time initiating the supply chain process, raising a procurement form, searching for funds, finding suppliers who can take months…while children in emergencies wait. That’s why these kits are so important.
Transforming emergency care
As soon as we heard about the measles outbreak in South Sudan, my team was mobilized. Within two weeks of the outbreak being announced, we were on the ground vaccinating children in 18 clinics and 24 mobile outreach centers.
Tracking the population in South Sudan is difficult, especially since the outbreak of conflict and the huge movement of people it has caused. A rough estimate told us we could expect to vaccinate around 26,000 children. Three weeks later, we had vaccinated 44,447.
We linked up with local staff and infrastructure and worked with the community to raise awareness on our behalf and tell people we were here. Word spread quickly, and after receiving 60 children on the first day, numbers rapidly swelled to up to 400 daily. Reaching out to the community in this way is so important to our work in emergencies – we would never have reached as many children as we did without their help.
The Emergency Health Unit team continued to treat children through sandstorms.
A medal of honor
The infrastructure in Mayom is poor – it’s difficult to reach this part of South Sudan, and many NGOs are reluctant to attempt healthcare here. We relied on an array of transport, including motorbikes and canoes, to reach the most remote communities. We travelled across rough, rugged terrain and collapsed bridges, and vaccinated children in the middle of sandstorms.
We hurried, carrying life-saving vaccines that melted at three times the normal speed in Mayom’s 40-degree heat in precious cool-boxes . All while wearing what my colleague Nathalie calls the ‘Mayom suit’: head-to-toe dust.
In one rural cattle ranch our team leader, Koki, was heavily spat on by an elderly man on our arrival. “Hey, what’s this?” Koki said at the time, wiping the slimy liquid from his forehead. It turned out this was a sign of appreciation from the old man, who in his lifetime had never seen any NGO reach his remote community. ‘’Being spat on by an old man signifies immense blessings bestowed upon Save the Children!’’ a local health official told us.
And this salivary medal of honor feels truly earned. It was an incredible achievement: in this most inhospitable of environments, we did whatever it took to protect the vulnerable children in this isolated part of the world. Our new system works: in just three weeks, 44,447 children were permanently saved from a potentially deadly fate. A catastrophe was averted.
Now – what’s next?
Dr Nicholas Alusa is an experienced pharmacist and medical logistics expert working as part of our new Emergency Health Unit, a major change in our work. The Unit consists of immediately deployable teams containing the ideal combination of medical and operational specialists, strategically positioned in emergency hotspots around the world and fully equipped with the best tools for the job. We can deploy these teams in a matter of hours, putting them at a child’s side, giving them the treatment they need in those critical early stages of an emergency.