Diarrhea caused by contaminated water is the single greatest killer of children in much of the world. In the 1980s, the Bangladesh-based organization to which I belong, BRAC, ran a program that helped reduce children's deaths from diarrhea by 80 percent nationwide. The project was fraught with difficulties and challenges, taking a decade to complete. Looking back years later, I think the experience holds important lessons that apply far beyond public health.
Heart disease is often regarded as a problem that a person is born with, or something that eventually happens in older adults. Non-modifiable risk factors like advancing age and family history are not the only reasons for heart disease. In fact, 80 per cent of premature deaths from cardiovascular disease could be avoided if modifiable risk factors like tobacco use, unhealthy diet, physical inactivity, high blood pressure (hypertension), diabetes and raised lipids are addressed.
As we read this, there are millions of people in different corners of the world who are unsure if they will wake up alive in the morning due to their inhabitancy in conflict-ridden regions. There are people who brace themselves every morning to face another day of poverty or wonder if they will be able to afford medicine for their children.
Friends and supporters have reached out to BRAC with concern and support. In Sierra Leone and Liberia, we have 907 full-time staff, and about as many self-employed community health promoters. Our staff is safe, though sadly, some of our microfinance clients are among the more than 1,000 who have died.
It was Monday, a bazaar day at Qarabag. Hundreds of people were milling about the market, which stretches along one of the roads of the junction. They were buying clothes, daily essentials and food. On these days, the number of visitors at the BRAC-managed district hospital also doubles.
Bangladesh is rated as one of the 36 high malnutrition burdened countries in the world. Although it was widely perceived that malnutrition could be curbed down by increasing peoples’ income, recent studies have shown that it is not always the case. Malnutrition is not only under-nutrition but also over-nutrition, which leads to obesity leading to further health complications such as non-communicable diseases. Moreover, exposure to junk food coupled with a lack of knowledge on nutrition increases the prevalence of malnutrition across the mid and higher quintile of the population.
Asma Akhter had her first child at the age of 15. She had little knowledge on infant, young and child feeding (IYCF) practices and used to believe in superstitions and social taboos regarding child care. She had avoided breastfeeding her daughter within one hour of birth and had wrongly fed other lacteals during her child’s first six months.
BRAC has been recruiting and training shasthya shebikas, frontline community health promoters, in Bangladesh since 1972. Currently 97,000 shasthya shebikas and an additional 10,000 shasthya kormis, frontline community health workers, are providing a multitude of health services to Bangladesh’s communities. For tuberculosis (TB), they provide TB information, identify TB cases and administer directly observed treatment short- course (DOTS).
Today marked the four-year anniversary of the Haiti earthquake. Our friends at AmeriCares write about Herve, a patient at the BRAC Limb and Brace Center, who like so many others lost his legs in the quake:
After having both legs amputated when they were crushed in the 2010 Haiti earthquake, 19-year-old Herve struggled. He was given prosthetics that did not work well and couldn't go to school or join his friends.
The BRAC Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) programme in Bangladesh is planning to convert faecal matter from pit latrines into commercially viable fertiliser, biogas and electricity. The aim is to complete the sanitation chain by making material from millions of pit latrines safe and economically productive. Babar Kabir, senior director of the BRAC WASH programme, says that there is a sound business case for investment in bio-energy units that could generate electricity on a large scale.
Across the murky waters of Banani Lake from BRAC's headquarters in Dhaka, Bangladesh, lies Korail, one of the country's largest slums, jam-packed with over 40,000 people. I have always seen the slum from a distance, but knew very little about what goes on inside. Typically, slums are illegal land settlements littered with crime, invariable health-hazards and acute poverty. But what I saw recently on my first visit was beyond my expectations.
GlaxoSmithKline and Save the Children have joined together to create a $1 million Healthcare Innovation Award, awarding $300,000 to BRAC. The funds will be used to pilot BRAC's Manoshi program in Freetown, Sierra Leone, after having tremendous success in the urban slums of Dhaka, Bangladesh.