June 2012

While global health and policy efforts to protect young girls from early or forced marriage are increasing, millions of girls are forced into early marriage every year. Pictured: four Senegalese girls. {Photo credit: S. Galdos/MSH.}Photo credit: S. Galdos/MSH.

If you think that child marriage is not an issue in the twenty-first century, think again.  In developing countries, 82 million girls who are now ages 10 to 17 will be married before their 18th birthday. Over the past decade, 58 million girls in developing countries -- one in three -- have been married under the age of 18; 15 million -- one in nine -- were married by age 15.

These girls are often married against their will, despite national laws that prohibit marriage until the age of 18, and numerous international declarations, conventions, and global conferences that “guarantee” the rights of girls, like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Senate Passes Preventing Child Marriage Act

Child marriage is increasingly becoming a hot topic within the realm of global health -- and influencing U.S. domestic and global policy.

The International Protecting Girls by Preventing Child Marriage Act (S. 414) -- reintroduced in the U.S. Congress in February 2011 --- passed on the Senate floor by way of voice vote on May 24, 2012. (The bill also passed the Senate unanimously in December 2010.)

Sophia is now the go-to person for family planning and reproductive health services at Rwesande health center IV in western Uganda. {Photo credit: M. Hartley/MSH.}Photo credit: M. Hartley/MSH.

Sophia is a humble woman. She has been working as a nurse for 10 years, and is currently one of five nurses posted at Rwesande health center IV in the hills of western Uganda.

When I arrived I was impressed by the number of services the health center offers, and the general appreciation felt around the compound. Rwesande health center IV has a maternity ward to safely deliver babies; counseling areas for family planning, reproductive health, and HIV; a general ward, a surgery theater, and health education space.

Family planning counseling and services now available

As Sophia shows me her meticulously-kept record books I can see the pride she takes in her work. She explained how women are now coming and asking for family planning services.

Not too long ago clients were not coming, and the nurses didn’t have proper training on methods to offer clients.

Three Afghan children. {Photo credit: MSH.}Photo credit: MSH.

About 7.6 million children under age five die each year of preventable causers; 3 million — 40 percent — are newborns (under 28 days old). Ninety-nine percent of these occur in developing countries; three-quarters are mainly due to preventable causes such as neonatal conditions, pneumonia, diarrhea, malaria, and measles. Many of these under-five deaths could be averted by known, affordable, low-technology interventions.

Any preventable child death is one too many.

Here are 10 important interventions for child survival --- a list that is by no means exhaustive:

  1. Exclusive breastfeeding

    Could keep 1.3 million infants from dying (including by preventing pneumonia)

  2. Long-lasting, insecticide-treated bednets

    Would save more than 500,000 children by preventing malaria

  3. Vaccines, such as PCV, Hib, and rotavirus

    Would help prevent common childhood illnesses, such as measles, and save children’s lives

  4. Micronutrient supplements, such as vitamin A and zinc

    Would fight malnutrition. (While not a direct cause of death, malnutrition contributes indirectly to more than one-third of these deaths.)

{Photo credit: MSH.}Photo credit: MSH.

Policy makers and health sector leaders in low- and middle-income countries are recognizing the value of smart governance for significant and sustained gains in health status outcomes. The new USAID Leadership, Management and Governance (LMG) project, led by MSH with a consortium of partners, is actively engaged in building the capacity and competencies of those expected to accomplish smart governance.

To explore smart governance, LMG convened a Roundtable on Governance for Health in low- and middle-income countries May 18, 2012, at The Brookings Institution in Washington DC.

 {Photo credit: Mahjan CLTS Facilitator.}Washing hands. Itarchi Hakimabad, Badakhshan, Afghanistan.Photo credit: Mahjan CLTS Facilitator.

The USAID-funded Sustainable Water Supply and Sanitation Project, Afghanistan (SWSS) project increases access to potable water and sanitation services in Afghan communities and decreases the prevalence of water borne diseases through household hygiene interventions. Led by the Association for Rural Development, in partnership with Management Sciences for Health, SWSS has led nearly 400 communities in Afghanistan to become Open Defecation Free. The MSH components of the project have succeeded under the astute leadership of Dr. Abdul Hatifie, the team leader for Sustainable Health Outcomes, and Dr. Logarwal, the BCC Material and Media Specialist. Together they have led the successful implementation of innovative approaches in all aspects of the SWSS project. To learn more about SWSS’s accomplishments, please see the cover article in this month’s USAID Global Waters magazine.

Women meeting in Senegal. {Photo credit: Galdos/MSH.}Photo credit: Galdos/MSH.

Good governance in health care matters at all levels of the health system—from communities to health facilities to governments. When a community HIV & AIDS association in Zanzibar grew from 40 members to more than 1,000, it needed better governance. When women in Senegal raised concerns about lack of privacy and poor security at a district hospital, it needed better governance. And when the national health insurance program in Kenya was underperforming even after efforts to address its management and leadership, it too needed better governance.

Until recently, governance was arguably the most tenacious but unspoken barrier to achieving widespread, large-scale, sustainable health impact. In the 1990s, global health programs focused on training health managers. In the 2000s, as management improved and the need for stronger leaders became evident, the focus expanded to leadership development. By now, we’ve developed robust practices for building the capacity of health managers and leaders at all levels of country health systems.

A new hand-washing station in Toghak, Afghanistan. {Photo credit: Nikmohammad CLTS Facilitator/MSH.}Photo credit: Nikmohammad CLTS Facilitator/MSH.

In the small Afghan village of Toghak, where open defecation affected the sanitation and health of the community, two women took the initiative to mobilize themselves and others into transforming Toghak.

Ms. Fatima and Ms. Rukhsar attended a community-led total sanitation (CLTS) workshop in the neighboring village of Gheyas Said Abd and learned life-saving lessons they wanted to take back to their village. They learned that flies tend to breed in bacteria infested places, particularly human feces, and then transport the fecal matter to food meant for human consumption.

Knowing that this knowledge would motivate their community to improve their sanitation efforts, the women did not waste any time.

When the women returned from the workshop, they recruited twenty women from Toghak willing to help them improve the latrines. They also requested the assistance of CLTS facilitators to come to Toghak and map the high frequency defecation areas in order to identify the best locations for new latrines.

Within a week the women made improvements to 20 latrines. Within three months 50 new latrines were built.

{Photo credit: MSH.}Photo credit: MSH.

Over 100 conference delegates came together at the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development last week in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, to strategize smart solutions to global development and poverty reduction while promoting environmental concerns such as clean energy, sustainability, and equitable use of resources.  Popularly known as “Rio+20” --- for occurring twenty years after the 1992 Earth Summit  --- the three days of high-level meetings attended by heads of state and government and high level representatives resulted in “The Future We Want,” a 53-page document that outlines and renews global commitments to sustainable, earth-friendly development.

{Photo credit: deltaMike via FlickR.}Photo credit: deltaMike via FlickR.

Co-authored by Gina Lagomarsino, managing director for Results for Development Institute

Cross-posted on UHC Forward.

We welcome the United States Supreme Court decision to uphold President Obama’s sweeping health care overhaul. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) requires all Americans to have health insurance, which will dramatically increase both equitable access and the health of Americans.

It also adds the US to the growing list of countries on the path to universal health coverage.

US Affordable Care Act a good step forward

We have learned that countries must create systems that reflect their history and their current realities. In the US, this means improving upon a system dominated by private insurers that historically have been able to provide subjective and selective coverage – denying coverage or charging exorbitant premiums to those most in need.

To provide health care coverage for all in the US, it was critical that the ACA accomplish the following goals:

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