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Stories from the Field
- Sierra Leone, located in West Africa, is one of the poorest countries in the world.
- Sierra Leone ranks highest in under five mortality, meaning that only 3 out of 10 children do not live to see their 5th birthday.
- HKI visited a blind school in the city of Bo and witnessed heartbreaking conditions: two dorms with old, stained mattresses, broken windows and torn mosquito nets. Only older children are here because the school doesn’t have enough money to take in younger students.
- Many of these blind children suffered from vitamin A deficiency (VAD), which either resulted in their blindness or made their immune systems susceptible to blindness from causes such as measles.
- Just two doses of high-potency vitamin A capsules are needed every year to prevent VAD. The total cost of delivering the vitamin A is just $1.00 per child per year. HKI’s role in Sierra Leone is to ensure that the capsules reach those most in need.
- HKI also met adults in Sierra Leone blind from a disease called onchocerciasis, or river blindness, an excruciating affliction that is caused by worms that infest the body.
- One man, blind from onchocerciasis, was valiantly trying to support his family by doing umbrella repairs.
- HKI’s work in Sierra Leone is to help train and mobilize networks of community volunteers to get Mectizan® (ivermectin), the drug that prevents and treats onchocerciasis, to people who need it. Merck & Co., Inc. has committed to donating Mectizan® wherever it is needed as long as it is needed.
- Today, there are 30,000 dedicated volunteers in Sierra Leone who are reaching 90% of their local population with this sight-saving medicine.
- In a May 2008 article, Nick Kristof wrote that, “Americans sometimes don’t want to help poor countries because of doubts about whether aid works. There are legitimate doubts . . . but there also are extraordinary triumphs that don’t get attention.” He was travelling with HKI staff in Sierra Leone when he wrote these words.
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