A very happy new year to all. We wrapped up 2011 feeling good about what had been accomplished and were eager to wade into 2012 to see what was going to be next. It has not taken long for us to be off and running again with new projects that have grown out of our work and relationship with the people of La Gonave.
Last summer at a partnership meeting in Charleston we began a conversation with Dr. Laurie Harrell from St. Phillips in Charleston. She is a radiation oncologist by training but has a long history of medical mission work in Honduras. She raised the subject of soil transmitted helminths (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16679166) and their effects on the health of the affected people. She had used this treatment in Honduras and, after a trip to La Gonave, became interested in bringing this treatment to the people there.
After our discussion I returned to La Gonave in the fall to monitor our new Medika Mamba program. In the course of attending a number of MM clinics over the 3 weeks it became clear to me that many children did not need the full 8 week treatment cycle of the peanut butter medicine and that, in fact, once they were treated with Albendazole, the de-worming medication that is part of the protocol of Medika Mamba, the children were able to make use of the nutrition available to them and quickly gained back to their target weight. Sometimes in as short as 4 weeks.
(This is where I extol the joys of collaboration)
How easy it would be to miss what was going on. After my initial shock at how quickly some of these very malnourished children were recovering I began to ponder why that would be. My conversation with Laurie came back to mind and I discussed the possibility with a nutritionist that was on the trip with us, Laurie Sauerwein, and we surmised, correctly, that many of these children just needed to be de-wormed.
We knew the amazing results from the Medika Mamba. That had been documented. It would have been easy to stop there and ramp up the MM program. But, as happens over and over on La Gonave, because we are always talking to the people there, as well as seeking out other who are attempting to do the work we are doing, we made another connection that has a huge impact on the folks there.
Because of this, and with the help of Dr. Harrell, in six weeks we will launch a program to enhance and parallel our newest Children’s Nutrition Program initiative, Medika Mamba. We will begin by administering clinics to treat soil transmitted helminths at two of our partnership schools on La Gonave. We will treat 500 children and try to pass out shoes for as many of those as we can as shoes are one way to limit exposure to worms and parasites.
This new addition, which is the next step in children’s health, will endeavor to reach all the schools in the partnership so that they can be de-wormed twice a year (with the Albendazole that means only one dose every 6 months) to ensure that they can get the nutrition from what their families can provide. It is our hope that we can eventually expand that program to treat child-bearing women.
Unfortunately, during our monitoring of the Medika Mamba program in October, some of the saddest cases we saw were of infants who had lost their mothers in the first few months of life. And, while we are not sure that it was due to mal-nutrition or worm load issues, this is how we move to the next thing that seems to be part of what we are already doing.
Our motto has been “don’t start a project unless it touches something we are already doing.” This has served us well and it keeps up focused on the needs of the people and makes best use of our resources. This motto has led us to believe that the de-worming project is the next best thing to be doing and we see a need for more comprehensive maternal health on the horizon.
These are exciting times and we are every grateful that you are accompanying us on this journey. Thanks again for your year-end giving. Your generosity was over-whelming to us and we are ready for the challenges of a new year.
For the Partnerhship