Measles in Bulgaria
Though the increased distribution of vaccines has nearly eradicated measles around the world, countries have recently seen returning outbreaks. Bulgaria’s outbreak is one of the worst. However, the nation is working to control the measles outbreak with the help of vaccinations and strict government procedures. Here are the top 7 facts about measles in Bulgaria.

7 Facts About Measles in Bulgaria

  1. Between 2009 and 2011, Bulgaria faced a sizable measles outbreak after not reporting any cases since 2001. This outbreak was the largest in Bulgaria since 1992. All regions in Bulgaria were affected and a total of 24,364 cases were reported during this time.
  2. The Ministry of Health (MoH) and the Bulgarian National Programme for the Elimination of Measles and Congenital Rubella Infection managed the outbreak well. Both teams contacted physicians who reached out to families and educated them on the importance of timely vaccinations. These teams also advised the hospitalization of patients with measles to avoid spreading the disease to the community.
  3. Following the outbreak, the MoH distributed information about measles prevention to the national media. MoH also distributed educational materials on measles to all Bulgarians. These efforts made families in remote areas aware of the vaccinations their children should receive.
  4. Bulgaria’s measles vaccine was introduced in 1969, and the second dose was introduced in 1983. Between 2003 and 2008, more than 94 percent of the Bulgarian population had received the first dose, and more than 89 percent had received the second. Following the 2009 outbreak, health officials distributed the vaccine to those aged 13 months to 20 years who had not yet received the two doses. It also became available to those over the age of 30 who were in need of it.
  5. Children that have parents with low education levels have less access to vaccinations. This was found by a study performed by the European Journal of Public Health. Although Bulgaria has consistent access to measles vaccinations, the education level of parents appears to have an impact on vaccination access. In a survey of 206 Bulgarians from the region of Burgas, the mean number of years of education mothers completed was 5.20, while fathers on average completed 7.02. 40.8 percent of children surveyed had no measles vaccination, 45.1 percent received a single dose and only 12.1 percent received a second dose.
  6. Along with other standard, up-to-date vaccinations, measles vaccines are required by the CDC for all travelers visiting Bulgaria. This measure is to protect not only the traveler but also vulnerable Bulgarians. It also helps ensure that measles does not make its way to other countries.
  7. Bulgarians are required to notify health officials if they have measles. The Regional Inspection for Prevention and Control of Public Health (RIPCPH) and the National Center for Infectious and Parasitic Diseases (NCIPD) are then notified. The sooner individuals report cases, the sooner national health organizations can prevent outbreaks. Health officials also proactively study the demographics of measles patients to figure out where the disease came from and other risk factors.

Though Bulgaria’s recent measles outbreaks are distressing, the country has worked hard to protect as many people as possible. Additional efforts are aimed towards preparedness for the possibility of future outbreaks of measles in Bulgaria. With an increase in vaccines and a focus on the disease by medical professionals, Bulgaria will be able to keep measles under control.

– Alyson Kaufman
Photo: Pexels

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome in South Africa
With a rate 14 times higher than the global average, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) is more prevalent in children in South Africa than any other country in the world. In South African communities in the Western and Northern Cape, FAS is often a result of poverty, violence, substance abuse and teen pregnancies. Many young, expecting mothers attempt to dull the pains of their everyday lives through alcohol and drugs and are unaware of the negative consequences on their unborn children.

But not all hope is lost. As nonprofits work for to fight FAS in South Africa, the organizations have used mentor mothers to educate and guide young mothers through their pregnancies.

The Problem

FAS is a condition that occurs when mother’s consume alcohol during pregnancy and causes development problems in their child. These problems include learning and behavioral issues, brain damage, stunted growth and hearing and vision impairments.

In certain high-risk areas of South Africa, an estimated 72 percent of children are impacted by FAS. Furthermore, a shocking 111 out of 1,000 children in South Africa are believed to have FAS compared to the global estimate of seven per 1,000 children. This is partially due to a dated system where farmers pay workers in wine; this further contributes to alcoholism and binge-drinking.

Despite these high FAS levels in South Africa, there has been little to no government intervention or efforts to ease this problem. Instead, various nonprofits such as FASfacts and Philani have taken matters into their own hands.

Nonprofits Offer Solutions

FASfacts’ goal is to decrease alcohol consumption during pregnancy through educating the general public on the effects of FAS on children. It does so through various programs implemented in satellite offices throughout the country including:

  • Experiential learning for children and adults
  • Advertising campaigns
  • Church involvement
  • Mentor mothers
  • Film and theater

These programs aim to help young girls and adult women make the decision to avoid alcohol while pregnant, and encourages fathers/partners to abstain from drinking during and after pregnancies as well.

Another nonprofit working to decrease Fetal Alcohol Syndrome in South Africa is called Philani. This organization has been operating since 1979 and tries to stop the health threats of HIV/TB, alcohol abuse and malnutrition on infants. Philani recognizes that alcohol abuse continues to threaten malnourished children even after pregnancy and tries to build partnerships within families to nurture healthy children.

Both of these organizations have seen extensive results through their volunteer and mentor mothers programs.

Mentor Mothers Fighting Back

To provide support to expecting mothers, each of these nonprofits started a mentor mothers program. These programs train and recruit volunteers from communities at risk, many of whom are mothers themselves, to educate and guide these women through their pregnancies and provide support after.

The FASfacts program has been running for seven years and has helped nearly 500 women maintain sobriety during pregnancy and breastfeeding. FASfacts trains mentors to give psychosocial support services to pregnant mothers within their own communities for a yearlong period. During this time mentors focus on education, emotional support and providing motivation to stay alcohol- and drug- free. Some of these mothers then become mentors themselves to help others in their communities.

The Holistic Approach For Success

The Philani program takes a holistic approach to primary healthcare and believes that an educated and healthy mother will raise a healthy family. Their mentor mothers walk among communities where they weigh and chart babies’ and children’s weights until age 5; they also refer some to clinics to receive treatment and tests. The program helps mothers stay healthy and sober during pregnancy, rehabilitate malnourished children and prevent HIV transmission between mother and child.

Mentor mothers are providing guidance and hope for mothers living in poverty and facing harsh challenges across South Africa. Their combination of education, guidance and support has helped many mothers stay sober during pregnancy and have healthier children as a result.

– Alexandra Eppenauer
Photo: Flickr

Founded in 2002 by four professional soccer players, Grassroot Soccer (GRS) uses the power of soccer to educate and inspire at-risk youth in developing countries to “overcome their greatest health challenges, live healthier, more productive lives, and be agents for change in their communities”.

According to UNAIDS, there are approximately 36.9 million people currently living with HIV and millions of people have died of AIDS-related complications. While new cases are reported in all regions of the world, approximately 70 percent are in sub-Saharan Africa.

According to the U.N. Food and Agricultural Organization, a combination of factors has contributed to this high rate in the sub-Saharan region. One major factor is structural poverty, created by unregulated socio-economic and demographic changes and geographical isolation. Other important factors include traditional gender dynamics and instability caused by years of civil unrest and war that prevents the establishment of strong resources.

According to the Grassroot Soccer website, about 40 percent of new HIV infections are among youth under the age of 24. The founders of the organization understood the consequences of not educating young people and saw the potential to focus on prevention and awareness to end the cycle of silence and sickness.

GRS developed the “Skillz” curriculum, which focuses on using the world’s most popular sport to help boys and girls adopt healthy lifestyles. Through a series of interactive activities and discussions, students gain an understanding of HIV and AIDS.

Key topics include avoiding risks, building support networks, increasing knowledge about testing and treatment, addressing gender issues and fighting peer pressure. Perhaps one of the most important features of the curriculum is that it provides young people with a safe space to talk in places where both HIV/AIDS and their victims have historically been stigmatized.

Another point of success is GRS’s ability to mobilize adults as trusted partners and role models. GRS holds workshops for local community role models, such as soccer stars, coaches, teachers and peer educators. Once trained, Skillz coaches implement the curriculum in their communities, both inside and outside the classroom.

An example of a popular activity for kids is “Risk Field.” In this game, according to the GRS website, “participants dribble a soccer ball in between cones representing HIV-related risks—multiple partners, drug and alcohol abuse, sugar daddies, etc.” If one player hits a cone, their entire team must complete three push-ups, showing how one person’s actions affect not only themselves but also everyone around them.

Other activities follow this same style of discovery-based learning. The GRS website claims “youth learn through active participation, as opposed to the passive chalk-and-talk style common among many African public schools.”

Additionally, Skillz Magazine has allowed the organization to reach even greater audiences and the instructors to keep their lessons fresh and exciting with new activities.

Skillz further challenges youth to “Make Your Move” and become community educators themselves with respect to HIV and AIDS.

Grassroot Soccer’s efforts have proven successful. Numerous formal evaluations, conducted by multiple teams, including Stanford University’s Children’s Health Council and researchers from Dartmouth College, have documented Grassroot Soccer’s effectiveness.

A 2004 evaluation by the Children’s Health Council noted, “the percentage of students who could list three people they could talk to about HIV increased from 33 percent to 72 percent [between starting and completing a program].” Additionally, “the percentage of students who knew where to go for help for HIV related problems increased from 47 percent to 76 percent.”

While the pilot program began in Zimbabwe, it has expanded to multiple countries across the globe, including Brazil and Ukraine, due, in part, to partnerships with Peace Corps, USAID and FIFA Football for Hope.

Grassroot Soccer claims that 1,313,726 people have graduated from its various programs. As the organization continues to research and assess new programs in peace-building, obesity, gender-based violence and substance abuse, it will further connect youth with trusted community members, encourage young men and women to make educated decisions and empower them to shape the future of their communities and countries.

Taylor Resteghini

Sources: Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations, Grassroot Soccer, Kaiser Family Foundation
Photo: Google Images

HolisticFebruary 2016 saw the launch of two new education initiatives that emphasize a holistic approach to educating low-income children. A project from Harvard University’s Education Redesign Lab, “By All Means: Redesigning Education to Restore Opportunity,” and a project from the nonprofit Economic Policy Institute, the “Broader Bolder Approach to Education,” will address factors outside of school that influence student performance.

Harvard University’s project will use six cities as laboratories for their project: Oakland, California; Louisville, Kentucky; Providence, Rhode Island; and Salem, Somerville and Newton in Massachusetts.

Harvard’s initiative is a multi-year project funded by individual donations and foundations. The project has created a “children’s cabinet” composed of government representatives, school superintendents and community leaders in each city. They will meet several times over the course of the project to share best practices and Harvard professors will connect them with experts in the field of education.

The project will track each city’s progress and identify barriers to students’ educational attainment and achievement. Their main focus will be on external factors, such as Medicaid regulations on health clinics in low-income school districts.

The mayor of Louisville, Greg Fischer, hopes that the project will add to his ambitious education goals for the city. In an article published by the Huffington Post, Fischer states, “What we hope for is to get [other cities’ and Harvard’s] best practices, learn from that, and learn how to make it happen.”

The Economic Policy Institute’s initiative “Broader, Bolder Approach to Education” was first launched in 2008. At that time, the initiative’s focus on external factors such as health care, nutrition and afterschool and summer enrichment programs drew strong skepticism. The program’s relaunch in February 2016 marks its entrance into the mainstream, as others have now adopted its holistic approach to education.

The initiative aims to improve educational attainment and achievement by tackling issues brought about by socioeconomic inequality. It targets early childhood education, offering a system of high-quality education, health and nutrition support for children and families.

The program continues to aid students throughout their childhood, following up with comprehensive health, wellness and nutrition supported by promoting partnerships between schools and third parties to keep children healthy and in school.

The “Broader, Bolder Approach” also aims to increase children’s educational opportunities by promoting before-school and after-school programs, as well as summer enrichment programs.

To narrow the achievement gap, the initiative advocates for greater integration of low-income and minority students into higher income, homogeneous school districts. The program emphasizes the importance of engaging and consulting the community when making decisions about improving education systems.

Elain Weiss is the national coordinator of the “Broader, Bolder Approach.” In an article published in Education Week, she comments on the relaunch of the program, noting that it has shifted from a focus on the “poverty-education connection, to emphasizing […] the specific policies and practices that would help mitigate those connections.”

The launch of these two programs marks a new trend in education policy, emphasizing holistic approaches to narrowing the achievement gap. By addressing factors that affect students’ health and happiness, such as the challenges of poverty and lack of access to health care, these programs promise to help disadvantaged students reach their full potential.

Clara Wang

Sources: Education Week, Huffington Post, The Washington Post, Education Dive , Bold Approach

How Poverty Impacts Brain Development in Children
Children living in poverty are affected by more than lack of nutrition and diet and enrollment in education. There are 600 million children worldwide who are living in extreme poverty, which has negative long-term effects on brain development, new studies show.

Recent brain scans reveal specific regions of the brain are smaller on children from poor backgrounds than children living with wealthy families. Underdevelopment in the brain leads to problems with depression, anxiety and stress.

Researchers measured the cerebral cortices, which controls cognitive processing, such as language and reading. Results showed a correlation between socioeconomic status and cortical surface area.

The research shows that poverty is linked to many other development issues. If brain development is impacted by socioeconomic status, education test scores will be lower than someone with higher socioeconomic status.

Children from poorer backgrounds may go to school hungry or tired resulting in a lack of preparation or cognitive function.

“It’s not enough to bring a child into the world, feed them and make sure they don’t get injured,” says Luby, Early Emotional Development Program director at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.

Almost half of the world is living on less than $2.50 a day, and 754 children die every hour.

The second factor that impacted children’s brain development was the parent’s education. Children coming from an educated family had a larger hippocampus, which plays a role in short-term memory.

This does not mean if someone is poor that his or her brain will be smaller and nothing can be done to help it. The research is available to help improve the development environment that will change brain development and help children worldwide.

In the future, there needs to be more programs that teach parents nurturing skills that will benefit their children, especially those living in poverty. Through these programs, nurturing will reduce negative effects on brain development in children.

Donald Gering

Sources: Compassion, The Guardian, Reuters, Science Magazine, Spring
Photo: Flickr

The Tribal Huk gang of Ngaruawahia, in New Zealand, has been working for the last four years to help feed the country’s poor children. Every day, the gang has been making and delivering sandwiches to thirty-one schools in the area and putting food in more than four hundred hungry children’s mouths.

Jamie Pink, the president of the organization, called Kai 4 the Future, knows what it is like to grow up in poverty. As a child, he barely ever had enough food for himself. When he grew to be an adult, he knew he wanted to do something about it. Although he does admit he likes violence, he says he liked helping people even more.

Now, Tribal Huk leases fifty acres of farmland around Horotiu and Ngaruawahia, and owns dozens of beef, sheep and pigs. Some animals are sold to finance the foundation while the rest go in the sandwiches.

In New Zealand, 270,000 children live below the poverty line, according to the country’s Children’s Commissioner. Although the government has implemented a $9.5 million program in the last couple of years to help solve the problem, children remain hungry.

Pink laments that New Zealand has enough water, food and other resources- sheep even outnumber people ten to one- to support their population, but children are still going hungry. He hopes to get government assistance so the gang can make even more sandwiches every day.

He is also hoping to start a new trust in which people donate just $5 a week to the Foundation. If 50,000 people pay this amount for a year, they would collect $30 million – enough to feed every hungry child in the country.

Radhika Singh

Sources: Stuff, RadioNZ
Photo: Stuff

Parents know that it can be difficult to get their child to wash their hands or brush their teeth. Sometimes, to get kids to do what is best for them, you have to make it fun.

A new toy can help prevent children from getting sick with diseases or diarrhea. It is a bright green and white plastic box that has frogs and a colorful logo on it.

LaBobo is the newest toy sink produced by nonprofit WaterSHED. It has been launched in Cambodia, where access to basic hygiene and sanitation needs ranks last in Southeast Asia and 110th in the world, contributing to the deaths of 10,000 children per year.

The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that nearly 800,000 children die every year from lack of sanitation, which leads to diseases.

LaBobo sells the frog toy sink at $15, making it a very affordable product, and the sink dispenses 15 liters of water. Instead of giving out buckets and soap, WaterSHED takes an innovative approach to helping solve sanitation problems in developing countries.

“If you give people a bucket and a piece of soap, more often than not you will find the bucket ends up being used for something else,” says Geoff Revell, WaterSHED’s regional program manager.

In one year, WaterSHED has sold 10,000 units in Cambodia. Regular hand-washing and sanitation is a significant challenge in Cambodia, where only 44 percent of Cambodians are able to wash their hands with soap and 60 percent of the rural population defecate in the open.

WaterSHED is working on marketing tools to bring LaBobo to Vietnam, which also has low sanitation standards.

Forty percent of the global population lacks basic sanitation. LaBobo does not help decrease the number of people who do not have access to sanitation, but it does increase the number of children who will wash their hands.

In places like Niger, where only 18.3 percent of the population has access to improved sanitation facilities, there needs to be stronger commitments from the international community to ensure that residents can access proper sanitation.

Diseases are a cross-national threat. But by investing in sanitation facilities and innovative ways to improve children’s sanitation, the large number of deadly diseases these children could become afflicted with can be reduced.

Donald Gering

Sources: Good News Network, Reuters, Social Progress Imperative, WaterSHED, WHO
Photo: Good News Network

portable_sinksAccording to the World Heath Organization (WHO), across the globe nearly 800,000 children die of diarrheal diseases each year. What’s more, these deaths are preventable with access to proper sanitation and hygiene tools. Fortunately, a new innovation from the nonprofit WaterSHED offers a solution: portable sinks.

Hand washing, WaterSHED asserts, is key to preventing diarrhea. However, in a country like Cambodia, where 80 percent of the population lives in impoverished rural areas, hand washing often gets left by the wayside.

Enter the LaBobo, a portable, inexpensive sink whose bright colors are designed to engage children in the hygiene process. Each unit costs $15 and is capable of dispensing up to 15 liters of water.

The LaBobo, which was designed with input from Vietnamese families in the Mekong Delta, is built with a low-flow spout that acts as a means to conserve water. The sinks are designed to be child-accessible and are also outfitted with a soap dish, which promotes the full hygiene routine.

WaterSHED asserted in a recent press release: “If we consistently wash our hands at critical times, especially after using a toilet or before preparing food, we can prevent nearly half the cases of diarrheal disease and one third of the cases of other potentially fatal infections, according to the World Bank.”

According to Om Prasad Gautam, technical support manager with charity WaterAid, improved hand washing habits also help to promote the impact of other health initiatives.

However, in a study conducted of 79 households throughout Cambodia, researchers from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and University of California, Davis found that a mere five percent of these homes were outfitted with “dedicated hand-washing equipment.”

This is a shortage that WaterSHED regional program manager Geoff Revell understands.

“If you give people a bucket and a piece of soap, more often than not you will find the bucket ends up being used for something else,” Revell said. “But if they spend some money on a product they like and actually want to own, it’s much more likely that they will keep using it and form a healthy habit of washing their hands regularly.”

The LaBobo is designed to meet the need for dedicated hand-washing equipment by virtue of its clear function as a sink and its appealing design, which has already engaged the households serviced by the 10,000 LaBobo units sold in Vietnam.

In Cambodia, where proper sanitation is still a challenge and a mere 44 percent of the population has access to both soap and water, small steps toward improving hand washing practices represent enormous progress. Cambodia has one of the greatest under-age-five mortality rates in the world, but with tools like the LaBobo on their side Cambodia’s children are cleaning up their hygiene act.

– Emma-Claire LaSaine

Sources: WaterSHED, Huffington Post,
Photo: WaterSHED

For a Swazi, the most difficult time of survival is the first five years after birth. Malnutrition in Swaziland is responsible for 8 percent of child mortality. Because of an unorganized health system, 69 percent of child malnutrition cases go untreated.

Malnutrition is classified into two stages: chronic and acute. According to World Vision International, “chronic malnutrition results in stunting, or reduced growth in height, and means that a child has persistently not received adequate nutrition. Stunting affects one-third of all children in developing countries.”

Acute malnutrition is more expedited, resulting “in wasting, or rapid weight loss, and means that a child has experienced a relatively sudden drop in food intake. This is usually due to a severe food shortage or period of illness. Ten to 13 percent of children under five suffer from acute malnutrition.”

A study released by the World Food Programme (WFP) reveals that Swaziland relies on international donors to keep famine at bay. But in reality, this only conceals the fact that there are food shortages and malnutrition affecting the Swazis.

The Cost of Hunger in Africa (COHA) survey was initiated by Swaziland’s National Children’s Coordinating Unit and the Ministry of Economic Planning and Development, the first survey of its kind in Swaziland.

This survey found that the effects of malnutrition in Swaziland have stunted about 40 percent of adults. Because the effects of malnutrition can be seen throughout the lifetime of a Swazi, this creates a domino effect in the country.

Economic Planning Minister Prince Hlangusempi Dlamini noted “The saddest thing is that this cycle [of malnutrition] is not limited to the life cycle of each individual, but affects that person’s children, who will pass it on to yet another generation.”

Recommendations following the report suggest Swaziland spending massive amounts on a nutritional intervention, but Swaziland is unable to provide such financing. What can be done to bridge the gap between the much needed funding?

The Power of Nutrition, a new fund created by UNICEF and the World Bank Group in April, will help millions of children affected by malnutrition. And as a way to combat malnutrition in the years to come, The Power of Nutrition will also help countries build healthy and prosperous communities. Aid is the first step in helping, but developing communities will ensure that malnutrition will not affect future generations.

One of the goals of The Power of Nutrition includes trying to break the cycle of undernourished girls, who become undernourished mothers and give birth to undernourished babies. This is similar to the cycle of malnutrition found in Swaziland being passed form generation to generation.

With a fund like The Power of Nutrition, which hopes to raise $1 billion to tackle children’s nutrition, Swaziland would be able to receive the funding essential for the nutritional overhaul. The funding would end the vicious cycle of malnutrition carrying over to the next generation.

– Kerri Szulak

Sources: All Africa, Food Business News, UNICEF, World Vision International, Photo
Photo: Sustainable Conversations

Every Woman Every Child is working to save the lives of 16 million women and children by 2015. Focusing on addressing the major challenges facing women and children all over the globe, Every Woman Every Child works to enhance financing, strengthen policy and improve service on the ground for women and children in need.

Launched by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon during the United Nations Millennium Development Goals Summit in 2010, the initiative would mean saving the lives of 16 million women and children, preventing 33 million unwanted pregnancies, ending growth stunting in 88 million children and protecting 120 million children from pneumonia.

Improving the health of women and children is critical to nearly every area of human development and progress. Research shows that the health of women and children is the foundation of creating healthy societies.

According to Women and Health Alliance International, every year half a million women die during pregnancy or because of problems during childbirth. While the mother’s death is horrible enough in itself, the structure of the entire family is damaged to a point of collapse.

Economies cannot grow and social stability cannot increase without first building up public health services. The Every Woman Every Child initiative recognizes that all factors have an important contribution to make in the movement, from the private sector to civil society.

At the 2010 launch more than $40 billion was pledged to the cause. However, more help is necessary to reach the 2015 goal. The secretary-general is asking the international community for additional commitments not just fiscally, but in the form of policy and human service delivery on the ground.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon described his enthusiasm for the project, stating,“Every Woman Every Child. This focus is long overdue. With the launch of the Global Strategy for Women’s and Children’s Health, we have an opportunity to improve the health of hundreds of millions of women and children around the world, and in so doing to improve the lives of all people.”

— Caroline Logan

Sources: Every Woman Every Child, UN Foundation, WAHA
Photo: Peace and Security