August 2011

Mother and children, Salima, Malawi, April 2011

Malawi leads the developing world as the first to propose an approach to prevention of mother to child transmission (PMTCT) of HIV that addresses the health of the mother. Recently my MSH colleague Erik Schouten and his colleagues in Malawi wrote a commentary in the Lancet about Malawi’s innovative, public health approach to PMTCT. Malawi calls its model “B+” because it complements the World Health Organization’s (WHO) B option, whereby a mother’s CD4 cell count, a measure of the volume of HIV circulating in her blood, determines her eligibility for lifelong antiretroviral therapy (ART).

A child born in Ghana today will most likely receive a full schedule of immunizations, and her chances of surviving past the age of five are far better than they were a decade ago. Today Ghana boasts a coverage rate for infant vaccination of 90 percent and hasn’t seen an infant die of measles since 2003.

Ghana has been expanding primary health care by bringing services to people’s doorsteps since the 1980s, and since the early 2000s has done so in the context of a commitment to universal health coverage. The secret to its success in child immunization has been both integration and decentralization of health services: Government funding for all health activities is provided through a "common pot." District-level managers are responsible for local budgeting and service delivery. Local staff provide comprehensive rather than specialized care.

Ghana is one of a growing number of low- and middle-income countries demonstrating that strong performance in immunization can go hand-in-hand with the aspiration of universal health coverage, access for all to appropriate health services at an affordable cost.

From Alima Twaibu’s village in Nhkotakota district, it is 10 km to the nearest Health Center or 16 km to the District Hospital. With more than 80% of the population living in rural areas, the majority of Malawians experience similar challenges to accessing care. People have to walk long distances to receive services when they are sick. And when time away from work or paying for transport competes with other basic expenses, the decision to seek preventive services like family planning and HIV testing and counseling (HTC) is even more difficult. Fortunately for her neighbors and surrounding communities, Alima is an experienced Community-Based Distribution Agent (CBDA).

If you grow up in places like Kasungu district in rural Malawi, you learn that when your wife is pregnant, you should not have sex outside marriage---because you will lose the “expected gift” through miscarriage. Male promiscuity during a partner's pregnancy is a taboo that many believe will bring a curse on the family.

Patricia Patrick says that after she miscarried in November 2008 “People talked in the village, and people talked within the household. My relatives asked me suspicious questions.” They wondered whether sexual misbehavior by her husband caused the tragedy. She remembers her husband telling his side of the story to prove his innocence, but nobody believed him.

Latrine construction in Lologo

Walking through Lologo South, I am struck how the community here mirrors both Juba and South Sudan as a whole. Growth is explosive throughout this newly independent nation. Every day a new shop or office building breaks ground. In Lologo South, a residential community just south of Juba, thousands of new houses, fences, and animal carrels are in various states of construction. And importantly, thanks to Management Sciences for Health (MSH), there are also latrines.

In September 2010, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID)-funded, MSH-led Sudan Health Transformation Project, Phase 2 (SHTP II), in conjunction with Population Services International and the Basic Services Fund, piloted a 3-month Community Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) project to determine the most effective strategies to increase sanitary defecation methods in Southern Sudan.

Guest post by Dr. Ahmad Masoud Rahmani

Dr. Ahmad Masoud Rahmani is the National Director of the Afghanistan National Blood Safety and Transfusion Services Directorate, in Kabul, Afghanistan. Dr. Masoud was a participant in the MSH Leadership Development Program offered by the USAID-funded Technical Support to the Central and Provincial Ministry of Public Health project (Tech-Serve) in Afghanistan last year. 

The National Blood Transfusion service in Afghanistan has the responsibility for ensuring that a safe and adequate blood supply is available for all people who need it. This is a free service to all citizens of Afghanistan as mandated by our parliament. Yet to us the costs of providing one pint of blood is very high, about $30 per unit. This includes the cost of consumables, testing of blood, refreshments to blood donors, and the cost of supporting staff and services. For Afghanistan, a country devastated by internal strife and war, this is a very high burden to carry by the Ministry of Public Health.

GNU Fellow Marzila Mashal (far right) of Afghanistan attends Leadership Development Program in Egypt

Editor’s Note: Marzila Mashal, an Administrative Coordinator working in Kabul, Afghanistan, was awarded a month long fellowship that is awarded to two MSH staffers each year. The Fellowship was established in honor of Carmen Urdaneta, Amy Lynn Niebling, and Cristi Gadue who on February 3, 2005, died in a plane crash outside Kabul, Afghanistan. The Gadue-Niebling-Urdaneta (GNU) Memorial Fund was established to further the work to which these remarkable women dedicated their lives. Each year, the GNU Fellowship provides MSH employees based in the US and the field with an international public health opportunity at another MSH location.

Mary's 120 square foot house, purchased in 1992 (Mala Persaud/GHARP II)

Mary* was married at the young age of 13 in her hometown, Crabwood Creek, Region 6, Guyana. At age 15, after she gave birth to her first child, her husband deserted them. Mary was left to provide for herself and her child. She tried a few odd jobs, but they did not work out. In 1989, at age 15, she turned to commercial sex work. At this time, Mary had never heard of condoms and had never used one. Her earnings were adequate, as much as $300 some weeks. However, heeding the advice of many of her older friends, she chose to leave sex work in 1992, spent her savings on a 120 square feet house, and started fishing to support herself and son.

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