Inside the Heart of an Epidemic

I am not sure that in my 16 years with Save the Children that I have seen—and felt myself—such  palpable fear in a place as I did last week in Liberia.  But it is a fear that comes at you in waves, an undercurrent that runs under what looks on the surface to be the normal daily life of a very poor country in West Africa.

 

In the market, people are going about their business, buying and selling wares, going to work, cooking in small sidewalk stalls. But right away you start to notice the billboards, the signs, all calling out that Ebola is real and what to do to keep safe. You see the washing stations at every store, every stopping point—and after just a few hours, the fear starts to seep in. My colleagues point out the sirens, signaling another Ebola case has been picked up, and images of the victims flash through my head.

 

The fear comes as I wash my hands in chlorinated water from a small bucket with a spout everywhere I go, as my shoes are sprayed with the same chlorine solution each time I get in and out of a vehicle or go into a building, as I try to remember to shake hands with no one, to touch no one, to not get too close, even to my own colleagues. Fear comes with the constant message on the radio inside the car as we drive—”Ebola kills”—over and over again.

 

But the real face of fear in this epidemic is in the faces of the families and children I met – children and families that have lost mothers, fathers, wives and husbands, brothers and sisters.  Those who have survived quarantines, but who are now shunned by their communities and cut off from basic services.  I see the fear in the children I met who have been orphaned by the virus and are living in makeshift shelters, under houses, inside storerooms.  Whole families of children living day-to-day as best they can without their parents. Their fear, and the fear of those around them, shows starkly in their eyes. WP_20141003_13_34_02_Pro

 

There are an estimated 3,700 orphans across the three hardest hit countries of Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea.  In Liberia alone, the number is estimated at 2,000, with new children becoming orphans each day as the virus ravages mothers and fathers. One little girl I met, seven year-old Elizabeth, was living under a house with her older brother just steps away from where their mothers body had been taken over a month ago.  They had come and burned all their belongings and sprayed down the room but the children would not go back inside.  While they survived the 21 day incubation period, they now faced the prospect of starvation and stigma as people in their town are too scared to even look at them.

 

One of the key pieces of our response is to work with the Department of Social Welfare in Liberia to ensure we know where these children are and get them basic survival kits which include food, household items, soap and hygiene supplies and clothing. Then we begin to try to reunite them with extended family whenever and wherever possible, a painstaking process to trace family members that may be hundreds of miles away.

 

But the bigger issue in this crisis is breaking the back of transmission of the disease, reducing the reproductive rate of cases to below 1—and bringing down the fear.  The messages, chlorinated water, and radio programs have done part of their job but people must leave their houses and get into care and stop infecting others at the first sign of symptoms. Tragically, there is just not enough care and beds available.

 

Save the Children is building 10 Community Care Centers in Margibi county—smaller centers where people can go and get tested, where those testing positive are isolated from others before being transferred to a more sophisticated Ebola Treatment Unit, getting basic care while waiting for a bed and receiving visits from a mobile team of doctors and nurses. We are also building an additional Ebola Treatment Unit to serve Margibi, one of the epicenters of the epidemic, modeled after a center we already built in Bong County.

 

While the fear of this visit was very real, there was also hope.  In my last hours in Liberia, I visited a transition center for orphaned children in Montserrado, with 10 children who still could not yet be reunited with their families.  While you could still see traces of fear and certainly sadness in their eyes, they lit up when asked to sing a song and proudly told me about their dreams.  One little boy, Edward, told me with a confident smile, that he wanted to be President.  Right at that moment, I believed it could come true, if we could just end the fear and death all around us that have no place in a child’s life.

 

Please help us do more to halt the outbreak and provide lifesaving outreach and protection for children.

Pre-School, Helping to Build Healthy Habits

Abilio Cossa

Abilio Cossa, Program Officer

Gaza Province, Mozambique

July 30, 2014

 

Save the Children has opened 35 preschool classrooms in 15 communities in the Gaza province, giving 1,225 children an early start to school success. Parents and caregivers have reported on the importance of early development of their children and change in the hygiene habits in the community. “Children that go to pre-school get knowledge about things that are not common in the community and they teach their parents…” said the community leader Nosta.  Laila (with her sister Leila) ready for the graduating cerimony

Getting ready for preschool, Laila, 5, and her sister, Leila, 3, brush their teeth behind their home in a small village outside of Mozambique’s Gaza province. Both girls attend the local Save the Children-supported preschool, where they learn not only the alphabet and counting, but also the importance of good hygiene. These healthy habits are very appreciated by parents, caregivers and other children in the community.

“Preschool is very important because kids develop good habits. They know that when they wake up they have to brush their teeth and comb their hair, get dressed and go to school”, said Laila’s mom, Maria Jose, 35. “These practices were not common in the community and we (parents) are learning from our children… note that… today the children are transmitting us habits that we did not have before.”

Laila and her ECCD colleagues exhibiting their certificatesWhen I asked Laila about what she learned in the pre-school she answered,” We learned that we have to wash our hands before eating and after using the latrine, we also learned that after waking up we have to wash our faces and comb our hair to be beautiful.”

During the interview Laila added, “Today is a special day for me and for my family.” Laila was part of a graduation ceremony. Her mother’s last remarks were, “I feel like I am flying. I am really proud and happy to see my daughter graduating.”

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Moms are the Heroes

We’ve all heard it before in one form or another: “Don’t get between a mother and her baby,” “There is nothing better (or worse depending on your position!) than a fired up mom” or “Mothers are their kids’ best advocates. However you phrase it, I see evidence of this everywhere I go for my work as Save the Children’s CEO and, I guess, Mom-in-Chief. It plays out whether I’m in Washington, DC or Lexington, Kentucky or the Bekka Valley of Lebanon. And during my trip last week to rural Nepal, I saw it again in full force.

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No Birth Should Be Left Up to Chance

This blog first appeared in the Huffington Post

 

Giving birth ranks among the scariest moments for any mother. It certainly was for me. I was living in Hong Kong at the time when my second of three children was born. And he was born in a hurry. He came so fast that I actually thought I’d give birth in our car on the way to the hospital! Fortunately, that didn’t happen and I safely delivered my son Patrick surrounded by a team of well-trained doctors and nurses, not to mention my loving (and relieved!) husband by my side.

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But I’m one of the lucky ones.

 

As new research released today by Save the Children reveals, 40 million women give birth without any trained help whatsoever. What’s more, 2 million women give birth entirely alone.

 

I met one

Put the Frontline Health Worker Into the Post-2015 Framework

This post previously appeared in the Huffington Post and on the Skoll World Forum.

 

As world leaders gather this week to discuss the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals and the Post-2015 Framework, no subject of conversation will be more important than the need for more frontline health care workers. In the last two decades, the world has made tremendous progress in reducing child and maternal mortality, due in no small part to the contributions of the local health worker delivering lifesaving care. Millions of people in impoverished countries are alive today because a midwife was by their side when they gave birth, or they were vaccinated as infants by a nurse, or because their families learned from a community health worker to adopt healthy behaviors like breastfeeding, hand washing, birth spacing, and sleeping under a mosquito net.

 

I saw the lifesaving power of local health workers first-hand last month when I visited Save the Children’s programs in Pakistan, a country with some of the worst health indicators on the planet. According to our latest State of the World’s Mothers report, the lifetime risk of maternal death–the probability that a 15 year old woman will eventually die from a maternal cause–is 1 in 110 in Pakistan. Compare this to the United States, where it’s 1 in 2,400 and you see my point. Pakistan’s children aren’t any better than their moms. For every 1,000 children born, 72 of them will die before they reach the pivotal age of five, more than ten times the rate of their American counterparts.

 

But as harrowing as these statistics are, you would never know it from visiting the maternal and child health clinic in Haripur district. It is one of the most impressive facilities I have seen anywhere in the world at the primary care, or village, level. The spotlessly clean unit is staffed by two female doctors and several nursing staff as well as a pharmacist–all health care workers. A warehouse stocked with supplies is available on-site and the facility provides services 24/7 as needed. Women come here for prenatal visits, for family planning counseling and products, and to give birth in a simple, clean and safe facility with excellent care. Three women were in labor the day I visited and when I saw the care they received, I knew I would have felt comfortable having one of my own children there.

 

Unfortunately, not everyone in Pakistan–or the rest of the world for that matter–is as lucky to have a health worker in such close proximity. By some estimates, there is a shortage of at least 1 million frontline health workers in the developing world. And many existing health workers are not trained, equipped and supported to deliver basic lifesaving care close to the community. The consequence of failing to close this gap is grave. Every 3 seconds, a child’s death is prevented thanks to care provided by a frontline health worker. When a health worker is not accessible, the situation is, predictably, far less rosy.

 

The challenge for all of us in the business of saving mothers’ and children’s lives is to ensure that every person, no matter where they live in the world, is within reach of a health worker. We can–and should–start at the UN General Assembly, and continue the drumbeat at the Third Global Forum on Human Resources for Health in Recife, Brazil in November. But, it will take more than a few high-level meetings to make this a reality. That’s why Save the Children, in partnership with the Frontline Health Workers Coalition, created The REAL Awards, a first-of-its-kind, annual global awards platform designed to develop greater respect and appreciation for the lifesaving care that health workers provide in the U.S. and around the world. Anyone can take a few moments to nominate an inspiring health worker and help spread the word about the countless unsung heroes who go above and beyond the call of duty. It will make a REAL difference.

A Mom’s Best Or Worst Day

The following blog first appeared on The Huffington Post.

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Every day, thousands of women celebrate one of life’s most amazing experiences — becoming a mother. But every 30 seconds a mother’s first moments with her baby are cut short, on the very day she gives birth.

 

Until now, we didn’t know how common this heartbreaking experience is in the United States and around the world. But Save the Children’s new report shows that one million babies die the day they are born.

 

State of the World’s Mothers 2013: Surviving the First Day also shows that today we have the evidence and cost-effective tools to save up to three quarters of newborn babies, without intensive care.

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The Real Breastfeeding Scandal

The following blog first appeared on The Huffington Post.

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Last year, Time magazine’s “Are You Mom Enough?” cover practically shouted “Scandal! Women breastfeeding too long!”

 

The unforgettable image stirred up controversy and I’m sure it sold magazines. But are moms and kids any better off?

 

Now, imagine funneling all that outrage and punditry into something that really helped mothers and their babies when it came to breastfeeding — especially in the developing world where it can literally save lives.

The real scandal is not breastfeeding late, but that too many moms don’t get the support needed to breastfeed early — or to keep breastfeeding, should they want to.

 

In our new report, “Superfood for Babies,” Save the Children estimates that 830,000 babies could be saved every year if they were breastfed in the first hour of life. The colostrum, or first milk, provides a powerful shot of antibodies that can stave off deadly disease. And immediate breastfeeding more often leads to exclusive breastfeeding for six months, which can save even more lives.

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And the REAL Award Goes to…

The following blog first appeared on The Huffington Post.

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Awards season is in full swing.

 

On Sunday night, Hollywood’s elite came together and celebrated last year’s accomplishments on the Big and Small screens at the 70th annual Golden Globe Awards. While millions from around the world tuned in and debated whether the most deserving winners were chosen, a smaller, but no less important, awards program was about to take place just a short drive south of the action.

 

The inaugural REAL Awards honorees were announced last night in Laguna Niguel, Calif., where nine U.S.-based health workers were named for their extraordinary service in health care. They may not be household names, but they matter enormously to the patients they serve. People like Carri Butcher, our winner in the hospice care category, who created a day spa at her own home in Arkansas for her dying patients so they could be treated to a little pampering before they passed. Or Esther Madudu, a midwife in rural Uganda, who is one of the nine global honorees we named last September. Esther’s clinic often has no power, so she delivers babies in the middle of the night by the light of her mobile phone screen.

 

The REAL Awards is a chance to shine the spotlight on the men and women who go to work every day to perform the greatest role of all — saving the lives of others. They may not grace the covers of magazines, but their work still deserves to be celebrated, especially since they’re needed now more than ever.

 

We’re currently experiencing a severe shortage of doctors in this country. While we can’t ignore this crisis, one way to address it, at least in the short term, is to rely more on other health workers — nurses, physician assistants, nurse practitioners, community health workers, pharmacists — to perform the tasks that don’t require a doctor, as a recent New York Times editorial suggests.

 

No one knows the importance of health workers more than those in the developing world, where the dearth of doctors is even more stark. By some estimates, the world is short more than millions of health workers, including one million frontline health workers, who deliver care in some of the hardest-to-reach communities, oftentimes with limited resources. In fact, frontline health workers are the first — and often, only — point of contact to the health care system for millions of people.

 

Their role is invaluable. It is estimated that every three seconds, a child death is prevented thanks to care provided by a

How to ‘Beat’ Child Mortality

The following blog first appeared on The Huffington Post.

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Can the sound of a child’s heartbeat inspire the world to save children’s lives? Can it inspire you? Children’s heartbeats recorded in Malawi and Guatemala inspired the band OneRepublic to write a song with a beat like no other. If “Feel Again” grabs you enough to download it, you can help save children’s lives.

 

The song provides the soundtrack to Save the Children’s new Every Beat Matters campaign. The aim is to raise awareness about the millions of children around the world who die needlessly before their 5thbirthday, and what can be done to save them. The timing is right for this campaign launch, and not just because it’s Infant Mortality Awareness month. Yesterday, the United Nations released their latest child mortality estimates, which show — for the first time — that child deaths have fallen below 7 million per year. While this figure is still far too high, it reflects the tremendous progress the world has made in reducing preventable child deaths. We can and must now finish the job.

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Every Beat Matters

Mbp

Mary Beth Powers, Newborn & Child Survival Campaign Chief

Washington, DC 

Wednesday, August 29, 2012 

Who doesn’t love a song with
a great beat?  How about a beat that can help save children’s lives? 
OneRepublic’s new single “Feel Again” has both.

We’re so excited about the
release of this song this week.  It’s a hit in the making and was actually
inspired by real heartbeats of children in Guatemala and Malawi.  Listen
closely as the track opens, and you will hear one of these heartbeats. 
What’s more, when you download the song, a portion of the proceeds will benefit
Save the Children.

In the coming weeks,
OneRepublic will help us roll out our new Every Beat Matters campaign
for newborn and child survival.  You can already make a difference by
visiting EveryBeatMatters.org to
download the song and join the campaign.

Every Beat Matters is focused on giving every child the chance to
survive.  The campaign showcases the frontline health workers who are key
to making that possible in communities around the world.  With proper
support, these local heroes can prevent and treat the major causes of 7 million child deaths each year.  These
include pneumonia, diarrhea and malaria–illnesses that are rarely fatal for
children in the United States.   

We hope you’ll stay in touch
so we can share news, stories and tools you can use to help children
survive.  The best way is to like our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/EveryBeatMatters
and to follow @EveryBeat on Twitter. 

Please join us if you believe
that every child’s heartbeat matters!