Newsletter: August, 2021

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MFH staff was in Baraderes, in the southwestern part of Haiti, when the magnitude 7.2 earthquake struck on Saturday morning, August 14. Since then, we have been in close contact with the Sisters with whom we work in the South, Nippes, and Grand Anse departments to assess the aftermath and their needs.

MFH Project Coordinator, Frantz Jean Baptiste, reports that the Sisters areFrantz Jean Baptiste sleeping outside at night because their residences have been damaged and they are unsure about how safe they are for occupancy. Meanwhile, they persevere providing health care to the injured and the most vulnerable. Rain from recent tropical storm Grace has made the conditions even more challenging.

Although disaster aid and relief is being sent to Haiti by large NGO’s and other large organizations, most of it goes to large facilities and does not often reach the rural, community-based clinics where our partners work to serve local populations. Medicines for Humanity was founded on a community-based approach and has continued to develop and deepen maternal and child survival projects through collaboration with local partners and community leaders. Our relationships with our in-country partners are strong and direct. We are a lifeline between many of them and the critical resources they need to save more lives.

We have prioritized the Sisters’ and the communities’ immediate needs and we are responding. Tents for sleeping, water, hygiene supplies and medical supplies to care for the injured are at the top of the list. If you can support us in our efforts, please make a donation here.

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This year, Medicines for Humanity (MFH) began a life-saving project to improve maternal and child health (MCH) outcomes for vulnerable women and children in Democratic Republic of Congo. In partnership with the Sisters of the Prioress of the Resurrection Bukavu, MFH has worked to increase access to quality health services in the area, build the capacity of the Ciherano health facility and its staff, and implement an effective community outreach and education program to improve utilization of services. Ciherano is located in the Province of South Kivu, close to the border with Rwanda. 

The need is great. The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is facing a life-threatening humanitarian crisis caused by ongoing violent conflicts, population displacement, poverty, malnutrition, and an under-resourced health care system further weakened by the COVID-19 pandemic. Our project partner, the Sisters of the Prioress of the Resurrection Bukavu, have an unflinching commitment to the people in the Ciherano area. The past decade has been a turbulent one. Three of their Sisters have been killed by militia groups, yet they continue to operate in the most enclaved areas in South Kivu. This region has some of the worst maternal and child health (MCH) outcomes in the world. Although DRC has made some progress in reducing child mortality, UNICEF reports that ten percent of children still die before reaching the age of 5. The health facilities lack clean water, sanitation, skilled staff and necessary equipment and supplies. The impact is devastating to the already vulnerable, impoverished children who are suffering and dying from preventable and treatable diseases such as neonatal complications, pneumonia, malaria, and diarrhea.  

During the first 7 months of our project, 16 community health workers (CHWs) completed refresher training on maternal and child health, received training on COVID-19, and were provided PPE, sanitation and cleaning supplies, educational communication materials tools and other job aides to support their efforts in the community. These 16 CHWs have completed more than 5,320 home visits to over 1,239 households! A remarkable achievement in this time of COVID. There was 24% increase in the number of CHW referrals made to the Ciherano health facility, a 39% increase in prenatal care, 34.6% increase in post-natal care, and a 38.6% increase in mothers delivering at the health facility. In addition, clinic staff received COVID-19 training and PPE, and 13 Sisters were trained on COVID-19 prevention. 

Malnutrition continues to be the underlying cause of death for more than 40% of children in the area. Nutritional supplements were purchased and distributed to more than 230 children who are malnourished or at risk of malnutrition. The subsequent waves of COVID-19 and variants combined with community vaccine challenges are further worsening conditions for these marginalized families. Additionally, militia groups continue to inflict harm on the community, so CHWs require additional training for vital trauma care and psychosocial support to distressed families.  

Despite these conditions, MFH project CHWs report that they are more motivated than in the past, and as a result, we continue to see a substantial increase in the number of CHW referrals made to the health facility in Ciherano as well as an increase in the number of mothers giving birth at the clinic. These efforts are already making a significant difference in the lives of children in this hardship-plagued region. 

MFH Creates an Online Training Program for Sisters

Medicines for Humanity (MFH) works closely with CWRs around the world to increase their capacity and resources for saving vulnerable lives. In most places, these Sisters are the communities’ only source of basic health services. Sisters are champions for maternal and child health care and their devotion and commitment to providing life-saving services does not waver. Unfortunately, however, quality training, mentoring, and even adequate supervision is inaccessible to the Sisters, due to distance and/or the lack of resources, transport, and the ability to take time away from the communities they serve. Many Sisters have not received updated instruction on disease prevention and treatment or clinical service provision for more than a decade, and most have never received any type of skills development on health care management or financial administration. To effectively reduce child and maternal mortality, Sisters in remote areas of the world need access to critical skills development, updated knowledge and data, and continuing education.

To address this need, MFH, in collaboration with Communities of Catholic Women Religious, created Learning for Humanity, a virtual learning platform that provides training for Sisters in underserved, remote communities around the world. Learning for Humanity (L4H) is a cooperative learning experience that is interactive, user-friendly, and self-paced. The platform provides a unique forum for communication, engagement, and partnership between Sisters around the globe, encouraging them to share learnings, best practices, and challenges.

The online learning platform is accessible using the Internet from laptops, tablets, and mobile phones. The courses are designed for Sisters with input from Sisters. During the spring, a pilot program to gather feedback about its effectiveness was offered free to Sisters around the world. 50 sisters from 13 different countries took part. They included countries in the Caribbean, Sub-Saharan Africa, and Asia. The pilot curriculum included courses on Health Care Management, with lessons on how to manage successful Community Health Worker programs and basic principles of Financial Management; and Leadership, which explores your own leadership style, the difference between leadership and management and how to improve and practice your leadership skills.

The curriculum focuses on training, skill-building, and mentoring. The content is interactive and engaging with live sessions, webinars, videos, animations, and activities. Collaboration and teamwork with other learners are encouraged through discussion boards, chat rooms, and capstone projects. Courses are convenient and self-paced. Sisters participate in the learning when they have free time and actively practice learned skills in their work environment immediately allowing those skills and knowledge to be cemented and utilized.

One of the highlights of Learning for Humanity experience is the Community Center feature. This is a first-of-its-kind tool for interactive communication and engagement among Sisters and

congregations around the globe to share learnings, best practices, camaraderie, and develop partnerships – something that has not been possible before. This will become a valuable resource for Sisters and their congregations across the globe. The feedback that we’ve received from the Sisters who have taken the courses has been extremely positive and appreciative.

One outstanding example came from Sr. Lillian Maitima, Local Superior of the Missionary Sisters of the Holy Family in Kenya, who told us that the Financial Management course not only taught her how to budget and handle cash, but it also gave her the confidence to create an enterprise to solve an inventory shortage in her pharmacy. More medications for the pharmacy were needed but funding was a challenge. With her new fiscal skills and confidence, she developed a business plan and a budget for purchasing one hundred chicks. She reared them for a month, sold the chickens and had enough money to purchase the needed medications plus an additional 100 chicks to keep the new enterprise going.

Learning for Humanity will continue to grow over time with more courses being made available. The platform officially launches in January 2022 and opens registration for courses for the year.

To learn more about Learning for Humanity or tells us about your interest in a course, please click here.

Zambian Bishop George Lungu Joins MFH Board of Directors

Bishop George Lungu, the Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Chipata in the African nation of Zambia, has joined the Board of Directors of Medicines for Humanity (MFH). Prior to joining the MFH Board, he had been twice elected President of the Zambia Conference of Catholic Bishops, during which time he successfully organized a Sub-Regional Conference that brought together Bishops and Archbishops from Malawi, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. He currently holds the position of Bishop Director of the Religious Men and Women in Zambia. Bishop Lungu was born in the Eastern Province of Zambia and was originally ordained a Catholic Priest in 1985. After working in parishes for 6 years, he pursued further education at what is now known as The Catholic University of Eastern Africa, graduating with a master’s degree in Liturgical Studies.

“We are all so grateful to have Bishop Lungu join the MFH family as a member of our Board of Directors,” stated Kirk Ryan, MFH Board Chair. “His passion for serving the most vulnerable along with his commitment to our mission, combined with his compassion for humanity, make him and extraordinary addition.”

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After a one-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Medicines for Humanity held its annual golf tournament fundraiser on June 28th at Indian Pond Country Club in Kingston, MA. Dedicated to the memory of late MFH Founder Tim Bilodeau who passed away earlier this year, the event was widely supported and drew a record number of golfers and sponsorships. Many of the 120 golfers who played this year expressed gratitude for the opportunity to come together in person for a day of golf on a premiere course and, at the same time, help to save children’s lives. Many also noted their sadness about Tim’s passing and their admiration for him.

Golf Chair and MFH Board Member Tom Bilodeau addressed the crowd and thanked them for their support. MFH CEO Margaret Brawley also added her gratitude and told the crowd, “Medicines for Humanity has had quite a year, and despite the challenges, I am proud to tell you that since we last were together, the number of critically needed health services MFH provides to children and their mothers has climbed to 1.2 million services… and next year we project that number to rise again to 1.5 million. And when you do the math, we do this for less than $2 per critically needed service.”

MFH is currently working in 8 countries at 50 project sites – all places where basic healthcare makes a life and death difference. The MFH Annual Golf Tournament is one of the major fundraising events that Medicines for Humanity produces each year

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