May 1, 2012 Volume 26, Number 05
SPOTLIGHT ON MISSION
Health Partners working to save the world's most vulnerable people
By Adam Kroeker | ChristianWeek Staff
Courtesy Health Partners International
A not-for-profit relief and development organization is taking the maternal and child health strategies it has been learning in Afghanistan into developing countries around the world.
In late 2010, Health Partners International of Canada (HPIC) decided it was time to focus on health care for mothers and children under the age of five. HPIC president Glen Shepherd calls them "the most vulnerable people in the world."
"Part of the problem with maternal death," says Shepherd, "is that when the mother dies, the child to whom she is giving birth (if the child survives) is an orphan and any older siblings become orphans.
"The mother is the glue, the bond of the societyand the consequences of the death of the mother are just devastating."
The World Health Organization estimates 1,000 women die every day from causes related to pregnancy and childbirth. More than 80 per cent of these deaths are preventable simply by access to basic supplies that can stop hemorrhage and infection.
That is why a shocking 99 per cent of all maternal deaths take place in developing countries. HPIC, whose basic mission to increase access to medicine and to improve health in these parts of the world, saw this as a glaring need where they could make a difference.
The organization is now halfway through a five-year project in Afghanistan, funded by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA). Here, HPIC has found that the most effective way to provide care is to work with the systems that are already in place. Its field office in Kabul is entirely staffed by local Afghan professionals, and it has formed an official partnership with the Afghan Ministry of Public Health.
The same development strategy will be used as HPIC takes its medicine programs into Africa. It is starting work there this summer, bringing a program called ALARM (Advanced Labour And Risk Management) to the country of Zimbabwe.
HPIC will bring Canadian medical professionals to train Zimbabwean doctors and midwives who are working under an organization called ZACH, the Zimbabwean Association of Church-Related Hospitals. These church hospitals are often the only reliable health care available outside of the citiesand over 75 per cent of the country's entire population lives in rural areas.
"This program would also train village women to become birth attendants and help," says Shepherd, who emphasizes the dire situation of giving birth in an isolated village. "A mother can go to the witch doctor, or fend for herself."
HPIC has also been working with The Salvation Army and an organization called Visionledd to develop a basic health kit that can be given to these rural women. The kit will contain things like multi-vitamins, food supplements, and iron tablets that will help both mothers and young children to survive.
After Zimbabwe, HPIC is hoping that the program will take root in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Tanzania, Kenya, and Uganda.
"We can't change the entire world," says Shepherd, "but we can change those parts of the world where we have serious partnershipsand that's what we try to do."