Health of Women, Mothers and Children

State-of-the-art medicines and technologies won’t help people in poor, medically- underserved countries unless the people can gain access to those benefits, panelists said. 

Dr. Keith Martin, who is also a member of Canada’s Parliament, talked about feeling helpless in Africa while a patient “died of bloody worms, for the want of a few pennies worth of meds.”

He noted that 344,000 pregnant women die each year from preventable causes because of lack of access to the right help. Twenty times that number of pregnant women suffer life-altering injuries annually. About 8.8 million children die each year. Meanwhile, 90 percent of the world’s health research focuses on diseases affecting Western nations, Martin said.

Martin contended that a focus on primary caregivers can funnel and unify research, donations, patients and support to “one unifying place.” 

But James Kiarie, senior lecture for obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Nairobi, warned that people tackling these problems need to know that teamwork is a key, troubles must be addressed on several levels, and they should be aware that no single “silver bullet” solutions exist for any problems. Also, solutions won’t necessarily be cheap, he added.

Meanwhile, Mike English, a senior researcher for the KEMRI-Wellcome Trust Research Program in Nairobi, Kenya, said that medical research needs to take into account the complexity and context of how it will be applied in poor nations. Also, much thought must be given on how to measure starting points and progress in dealing with specific health problems in poverty-stricken countries, he said.

The nations themselves need to be involved in planning how aid should be provided to primary caregivers and their patients, said Kiarie and Jaime Sepulveda, director of special initiatives at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

In Kenya, experiences show that the nation’s universities would be good places to expand health care, Kiarie said. But primary caregivers and other medical people must buy into whatever plans are mapped out. Access, cultural appropriateness and participation by men are crucial to HIV screening and treatment, plus pregnancy care, he said.

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, war, rebellion banditry rule — with rape being widespread. No accurate statistics have been kept, but it is estimated that roughly 6 million people have died because of the conflicts in the eastern part of the country — the majority from health problems due to the violence, said Nancy Glass, an associate professor at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Nursing and an associate director of the college’s Center for Global Health. 

Rape survivors — women and a growing number of men — have limited access to health care.

Besides improving medical access, other measures include social and medical workers trying to mediate between victims and families dealing with the stigma of rape. Another health measure — economically improving lifestyles — is hampered by the fact that even a $50 loan is considered too big and scary by many eastern Congolese families, Glass said.

The answer has been Pigs for Peace. Livestock is a major money source for eastern DRC families, and is a major plank of the economy. But the culture forbids women from selling many types of animals. The exception is pigs.

Working through village associations, Pigs for Peace will provide a pig to a person with that individual to repay with two piglets from the first litter. A $14,000 investment has sent pigs to 186 families in 14 villages since December 2008. Another 700 families are on a waiting list. 

Glass noted that the people are taught how to care for their pigs, and that a danger exists of a virus potentially wiping out an entire village’s pig population.

A Washington State University veterinarian student asked how she could help with the project’s veterinary needs.

Glass replied: “Anytime you’re ready to come to the Congo.”

Prepared by John Stang.

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