One of the most fulfilling experiences in my career was on a June day in 1999 on the far side of the Niger River in Niamey, Niger, when the President of the Republic launched National Micronutrient Days – enabling over of 80% of children in the country to get a life-saving vitamin A capsule. This was a milestone in an adventure that has transformed child survival in sub-Saharan Africa and it started in one of the poorest countries in the world with one of highest child mortality rates. A photograph from that day has figured in hundreds of presentations I have made since then. Canada was one of the key partners in that amazing event – and today it is moving to sign a $29 million grant with the Canadian International Development Agency that renews Canada’s commitment to saving lives in Africa and supporting one of our flagship programs.
Vitamin A supplementation is the single most cost-effective way to save children’s lives and it has been the pillar of HKI’s programs in Africa as we have expanded to now support national programs in 15 countries reaching over 47 million children every six months. The pioneering efforts taken on by the Government of Niger so long ago have catalyzed a wave of success across Africa – it has changed the goal posts of what we expect in delivering child survival services. There is no more complacency of just reaching children who are within walking distance of a health center – it is no longer acceptable to any government with which we work to deny any child vitamin A supplements and other essential child survival services. Another great source of satisfaction was in 2009 when the Assembly of Health Ministers of the Economic Community of West African States called on all 15 member countries to “Adopt a goal of universal coverage for vitamin A supplementation for children 6-59 months.”
This new grant from Canada allows us to help governments across Africa fulfill that commitment and calls on them to step up their support to cover recurrent costs of delivering these life-saving interventions.
An inside look into HKI's trachoma control activities in Niger and Mali.
Post by Emily Toubali, HKI’s Program Manager of Neglected Tropical Disease Control. Photos by Emily Toubali and Aryc Mosher.
Amina Nouhou lived for over 20 years with the searing pain of trichiasis, the final stage of the blinding disease of trachoma. Each time she blinked, the eyelashes of her left eye scraped her cornea. I cannot even begin to imagine the extreme discomfort she silently endured each day. She woke up, cleaned her house, and cooked meals for her family, in constant suffering from this excruciating condition.
This post was written by Jennifer Nielsen, HKI’s Senior Program Manager for Nutrition and Health. It is part of a series of blogs organized by The Huffington Post and the NGO alliance InterAction to call attention to the crisis in the Sahel, a region in sub-Saharan Africa where more than 18 million people face starvation and 1.1 million children under the age of 5 are at risk of dying from acute malnutrition.
Although my e-mail is flooded with messages detailing the political, economic and climactic forces precipitating a hunger crisis in the Sahel, the story is strikingly absent from the news reaching most Americans. But because my work in the region has helped me see these vulnerable families as if they were my own, I am anguished by the situation.
An interview with HKI's Program Manager for Neglected Tropical Disease Control
In honor of World Water Day, I am highlighting Helen Keller International’s Program Manager for Neglected Tropical Disease Control, Emily Toubali. One of her responsibilities it to manage our Trachoma Control Programs, a major component of which is promoting face-washing and proper sanitation to prevent this blinding disease. I recently sat down with Emily and asked her about her background, what drew her to the career she has today, and why water is so important to global health.
Tags: Emily Toubali, Lymphatic Filariasis, Mali, Neglected Tropical Diseases, Niger, Sierra Leone, Trachoma, Water and Sanitation
Categories Africa, Helen Keller, Preventing Blindness, Staff Profiles
An interview with HKI's Senior Program Manager for Nutrition and Health
I often wonder how people actually get to live their dreams. I sat down recently with Jennifer Nielsen, Senior Program Manager for Nutrition and Health for Helen Keller International, and discovered someone who has actually done just that. Here is Jennifer’s story:
Tags: Acute Malnutrition, Breastfeeding, Burkina Faso, Complementary Feeding, Essential Nutrition Actions, Food Security, Homestead Food Production, Maternal Nutrition, Nepal, Niger, Sweetpotatoes, Tanzania
Categories Africa, Helen Keller, Reducing Malnutrition, Staff Profiles
How One Community Prevents Malnutrition by Monitoring the Growth of its Children.
Post by Douglas Steinberg, HKI’s Deputy Regional Director for West Africa.
In a recent visit to HKI’s work in Tsogal, Niger, replies to my queries about the harvest were not encouraging at all.
“Most families here have only harvested enough to feed their families for two months,” replied one farmer in the community. This year is shaping up to be much less bountiful than last year – but still better than the disastrous harvest of 2009. This is a time when young children are at risk of malnutrition.
An interview with HKI's Vice President and Regional Director for Africa
Since Shawn Baker recently blogged about his experiences traveling with NY Times Columnist Nicholas Kristof, we thought it would be a good time to get to know Helen Keller International’s VP and Regional Director for Africa a little better. I sat down with Shawn who told me of a moving experience he had that helped determine the course of his life and his 29-year career as a leader in public health.
How this marine biologist got into public health: “What most people don’t know about me is that I’m supposed to be a marine biologist. I grew up watching too many Jacques Cousteau documentaries and studied marine biology at University. My foray into international development work started out as a two-year hiatus as a Peace Corps volunteer in what was then Zaïre (now Democratic Republic of Congo), which has ended up being a 29-year hiatus. It just shows the impact a life-changing experience can have.
Doug reflects on how HKI is preventing blindness and reducing malnutrition for the most vulnerable in West Africa.
Today, we drove the 150 miles from Fada N’Gourma to Ouagadougou – the last leg before flying out tomorrow morning. On arriving in Ouagadougou, Nicholas Kristof and the “Win-a-Trip” winners visited a center for supporting people living with HIV. Over the course of the past week, Shawn Baker and I have accompanied Nick through four countries – Mauritania, Senegal, Niger and Burkina Faso. We’ve been in numerous villages, and we’ve spoken in depth with many people – mostly women – about the challenges of their lives and the solutions to help improve their lot.
In pursuit of HKI’s mission to prevent blindness and reduce undernutrition, we focus on two major program areas in Africa – fighting malnutrition (particularly micronutrient deficiency), and controlling certain tropical diseases, such as trachoma and onchocerciasis. During this past week, we have seen some successful programs in each of these areas. During these days, I’ve been reflecting on HKI’s approach to reducing malnutrition.
Tags: Acute Malnutrition, Biofortification, Breastfeeding, Burkina Faso, Douglas Steinberg, Essential Nutrition Actions, Food Fortification, Gardens, Homestead Food Production, Neglected Tropical Diseases, Nicholas Kristof, Niger, Onchocerciasis, Sweetpotatoes, Trachoma, Vitamin A
Categories Africa, Preventing Blindness, Reducing Malnutrition
Doug Steinberg goes to a village in Niger that has eliminated the threat of River Blindness thanks to mass drug distribution.
Doug Steinberg, HKI’s Deputy Regional Director for West Africa, joins the team traveling with NY Times Journalist, Nicholas Kristof. The picture to the left is Doug with Kalifa Doumbia, a community distributor of the drug, Ivermectin.
The village of Moli is located about 85 miles south of Niger’s capital Niamey on the edge of the W National Park, a wildlife reserve with big game, small creatures and a variety of bird-life. The area lies west of the Niger River, with many tributaries flowing through it. These streams dry up in the long, dry season, but they come to life in the rainy season, which is just beginning. Among the life is the black fly, a vector for Onchocerciasis (river blindness).
At a truck stop in Niger, Shawn Baker encounters a woman who has gone blind from trachoma
Shawn Baker’s final blog post from his travels with NY Times Journalist, Nicholas Kristof.
On Monday afternoon we headed back towards Niamey and spent the night in Dosso, which is in the southwest corner of Niger. We stayed at the relatively new Zigui Hotel – which had promised to be a step above Magama – but we certainly did not move into the lap of luxury. That evening we ended up in the stadium where traditional wrestling matches are organized to take advantage of the outdoor bar and restaurant.
The next morning, Marily, HKI’s Country Director for Niger, Doug Steinberg, HKI’s Deputy Regional Director for West Africa who had just joined us, and Noreen, one of Kristof’s win-a-trippers, and I headed to the center of town. Dosso is a hub of transportation and the center of town serves as a make-shift truck stop. All vehicles going East and South pass through here.