Just trying to get by

  Rhitu Chatterjee
Sandamalgama, Sri Lanka

As a journalist living and working in a foreign country (I’m an Indian citizen, but live in the United States), I like to think of myself as being culturally sensitive and aware regardless of where I’m reporting from. But I hadn’t realized that the pressures of being a journalist can dampen some of that sensitivity. At least that’s what happened on my recent trip to Sri Lanka, where I faced a situation very different from what I expected.

I visited the country for the first time this summer to report on a mysterious kind of kidney disease that is affecting thousands of rice farmers and their families.  

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Delna’s story: Fighting back in the shadow of rape and violence against women.

By Ingrid Arnesen
Port au Prince, Haiti

Inside Haiti’s decaying camps, women like Delna Charlotin are on the frontlines.

Since the 2010 earthquake that ravaged Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince, there are still half a million refugees living in squalid, unsafe camps spread throughout the city, including in front of the collapsed Presidential Palace, on the Champs De Mars, the main plaza. The refugees living here are among the most vulnerable. They are the poorest of Haiti’s population, with no recourse but their own resilience in surviving. This is one of the camps that United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has identified as having an alarming increase in rapes of women and young adolescent girls.

Among the sinuous small alleys that form this tent city, a 16-year old sat on a small stool nursing an infant. Her indolent expression betrayed a deep scar. A sense of loss of identity. She says she was gang-raped by ten men and became pregnant. She tells us she can’t escape the anguish. But worse, her face clouded by an indescribable degree of pain, she says she turned to prostitution to feed her child. Looking up, her eyes begged for a new life, though she didn’t know where to turn to. No family and no income. Her protection is from two strong young Haitian men who have taken it upon themselves to protect the young girls in the camp, disgusted at the extent of rampant violence with impunity. One of them, Ludner, says they are trying to protect all the women here, but they alone cannot. “We can’t, we just can’t,” Ludner says in desperation.  

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Delivering on delivery for Nepali mothers this Mother’s Day

Mark Arnoldy
Achham district, Nepal

The first delivery room I saw atop the lush, rounded hills in eastern Nepal as a 20-year old made an indelible impression. It was empty, dark, dirty, and housed a homemade-style delivery table carved from wood covered only by a plastic sheet stained red, readied for eventual re-use. The sight stirred one of those moments of exaggerated empathy – where you have a true visceral reaction to the thought of a loved one being placed in that position before your eyes. For me, the thought of my own mom delivering in such a vulnerable environment was far too difficult to imagine, for the environment itself seemed to assist death as an all too possible outcome.  

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Despite gang-rape and abject poverty: Haiti’s women are the power for change.

By Ingrid Arnesen
Port au Prince, Haiti

The fight for women’s rights, against violence and rape, and for recognition has been a long struggle in Haiti. Until seven years ago, rape wasn’t even punishable by law. It wasn’t a crime until some very brave Haitian women won the battle in 2005.

In 1994, at the height of the brutal military regime that had overthrown a popular priest turned President, Jean Bertrand Aristide, both soldiers and civilian gangs used rape to terrorize the population. To speak out against abuse meant sure death. Not just the victim, but also the family, friends, acquaintances.

Against these odds, a few women clandestinely started organizing. There were five, and they all had been brutally abused and raped. I was able to meet with them in hiding. They agreed to be interviewed in shadow on tape, at a secret location, which was a small Catholic mission hidden in one of the capital’s sinuous streets. No names, no organization behind them. I never forgot their courage. They asked me not to come back to their neighborhood for a while, to avoid attracting the slightest attention.  

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Clean drinking water is about people, not pipes

By Jamie Skinner

Water and water crises will dominate the news this week from Marseille, where the sector convenes for its triennial global meeting, the World Water Forum. Some 33,000 participants attended the last one, in Istanbul in 2009, and similar numbers are expected this year.

There will be plenty of jaw-jaw, from public relations spin to formal negotiations. But the words adopted will be important for whatever replaces the millennium development goals (MDGs).

An obvious topic of discussion will be progress towards the MDG targets for water. In 2000, nearly 200 countries agreed to halve, by 2015, the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation. 

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Smoking gun: The inherent danger of simply cooking

By David Lindsay

As one worker pounds away at a sheet of thin metal, bending it into shape, a woman nearby dips a large brush into a can of brown paint and slaps it onto a canister in swift, even strokes.

In a building next door another employee molds clay into the same circular shape on a pottery wheel while a colleague pokes holes into the bottom of dozens of pots before they dry.

This is a workshop on the outskirts of Tanzania’s commercial capital, Dar es Salaam. The product: stoves that emit significantly less smoke than traditional open-fire methods of cooking.

According to the World Health Organization, indoor air pollution from cooking and heating homes causes nearly two million premature deaths each year. That’s more than tuberculosis and three times as many as malaria.

It’s easy to see why it’s so damaging. A woman perches on a small stool or tree stump, leans in and puts all her weight into mashing and stirring that day’s meal for her family. Smoke from the fire billows into her face and fills her lungs as she struggles for breath.  

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Nodding disease: A mother's worst nightmare

By David Lindsay

With much fanfare, a consortium of governments, non-governmental organizations and pharmaceutical goliaths have launched a $785 million global initiative to eliminate 10 neglected tropical diseases by the end of the decade.

But one condition that didn’t make the list is nodding disease. It’s not only neglected, it’s practically invisible. For mothers who already struggle just to feed their children and keep them healthy, it’s terrifying.

Imagine watching your neighbor’s child suddenly come down with a mysterious disease that robs her of vitality and leads to a slow, confusing demise.

Then it strikes the child of another neighbor, who resorts to tying a frayed rope to her teenage son’s ankle so he can’t wander off and hurt himself or others.

Imagine the feeling of helplessness, knowing that the disease is indiscriminate, with no known cause or cure. It could strike your child at any time. There’s nothing you can do about it.

That’s the case in small pockets of Uganda and neighboring South Sudan, where thousands of children are suffering from nodding disease, or nodding syndrome. There’s no official name for it. 

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Tuberculosis: The world cannot afford another phase of neglect

By Kevin Cain
Kisumu, Kenya

Cutting edge research is underway in Kisumu, Kenya, to find new ways to put an end to deaths from tuberculosis.

“My baby, whose name is Hope, was very ill and could not sit at 8 months of age. When she kept getting sicker, neighbors and friends contributed money to take me and my child to our rural home to await her death. Thanks to the DOT program and TB treatment, baby Hope is now strong and healthy. People still wonder what I did to her.”

This mother is just one person with reason to be thankful for the KEMRI/CDC community-based TB treatment support program known as DOT. This is one of many of the research and program activities underway at KEMRI/CDC, which is a research and public health collaboration between the Kenya Medical Research Institute and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  

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It takes a village: Local talent and global know-how spell success for a Burundi clinic

By Deogratias Niyizonkiza
Kigutu, Burundi

It takes more than antibiotics to tackle pervasive illness and disease. It takes more than microfinance to break the cycle of poverty in much of the developing world. It takes more than school supplies to build an education system from scratch.

Even when programs are thoughtful and well designed, the secret of success in global health and international development is simple: build a community of collaboration. Commit to being guided by those you serve and allow local talent to drive the effort forward, then collaborate with compassionate people from around the world.

When Village Health Works was founded, it was these values that ignited our work and we continue to live these values everyday. All four of our talented staff physicians are from our catchment area. All of our nurses are from Burundi. Expats collaborate with local staff on economic development, the design and execution of education programs and agricultural innovation. Experts from around the world—all part of our global community—contribute their knowledge and experience. Simultaneously, the local community shares their expertise and guides the development of new programs.  

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NASCAR's Jeff Gordon revs up cancer care in East Africa

By David Lindsay.   

One of NASCAR’s top drivers, Jeff Gordon, is taking on a challenge that may not move at the velocity he’s accustomed to, but requires the kind of strength, endurance and teamwork that he can relate to. He’s tackling cancer in Africa.

This week Gordon visited three hospitals in Rwanda, including Butaro, a facility that Global Health Frontline News reported on earlier this year.

The hospital has transformed health care in Burera, one of country’s poorest districts. It links rural community health centers with a well-equipped hospital that provides some of the best facilities and staff in the region.

Now Butaro Hospital plans to add a cancer center that will serve children from across Rwanda. It hopes to open its doors in May next year, providing diagnosis, chemotherapy, radiation and surgery. Preventive and follow-up care will also be incorporated. 

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David Lindsay
is the Managing Editor of Global Health Frontline News.

Carol Cassidy
is a producer for Global Health Frontline News.

Anna Tomasulo
is the editor-in-chief for The Disease Daily at HealthMap.

Lizzie Litt
is a medical student from the University of Liverpool in the UK.

Deogratias Niyizonkiza
is a native of Burundi and founder of the non-profit organization Village Health Works.

Kevin Cain
works for CDC-Kenya and is the Chief of the tuberculosis branch for KEMRI/CDC in Kisumu, Kenya.

Jamie Skinner
is principal researcher and water team leader at IIED.

Ingrid Arnesen
is an award winning television news and print journalist.

Mark Arnoldy
is the Executive Director of Nyaya Health.

Rhitu Chatterjee
is a reporter for PRI's The World and is based in Boston


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