This is a challenging year for all of us. As the threat from COVID-19 continues to be omnipresent, we must all persevere. At Medicines for Humanity, we continue to work closely with our in-country partners to increase their capacity and resources for dealing with the pandemic. Our resolution to eradicate child mortality from preventable illnesses has never been stronger because the need is even greater. Our impact is being felt in new ways and we are reaching millions more people than we have been able to in the past. In the face of adversity, our organization is growing and so is our commitment. Thank you for your continuing support and for caring about vulnerable lives around the globe.
From our families to yours, please stay safe,
Margaret Brawley, CEO & President
Food for Peace Projects in Haiti are Helping to Save Lives
Medicines for Humanity exceeded the goal and reached more than 12,000 undernourished children in Haiti during the first Food For Peace (FFP) project made possible from a grant from USAID in 2018. Food insecurity is widespread across rural and urban areas and across populations in Haiti. The highest burden falls on vulnerable Haitians, including young children, pregnant and lactating women, and elderly adults in terms of undernutrition, micronutrient deficiencies, and food consumption patterns. According to UNICEF, 22% of Haitian children are stunted and nearly 50% of women are anemic. Only 11% of Haitian children receive a minimum acceptable diet. Food security continues to be an underlying reason for child deaths from malnutrition.
From September 2018 to March 2020, MFH’s first USAID Food for Peace project called “Promoting Healthy Growth Development in Haitian Children” increased the nutrition security of 12,682 at-risk children aged 6-24 months in target communities of rural and urban Haiti. To do this, MFH organized a shipment of two 40-foot containers and one 20-foot container of the nutritional supplement Nutributter from Edesia Nutrition’s headquarters to Haiti. Local transportation companies contracted by MFH transported the commodity from Port-au-Prince to eleven partner clinics throughout the country. MFH worked with its partners to verify that the appropriate amount of product, based on the population of target children, was received and properly stored at each clinic. In March 2020, MFH again verified with partners that all the provided product was properly distributed to target children in the communities.
MFH was awarded another Food for Peace USAID grant in 2019. Building on MFH’s previous nutrition programming, this project distributes Harvest Lentil Pro, a dehydrated lentil, rice, and vegetable food blend that provides protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals to enhance individual nutrition. The food commodity also contains iron and folic acid which are essential to reducing anemia in children and pregnant and lactating women, and improving birth outcomes for infants. This project’s target population is 41,326 people.
According to Kristen Fanfant, MFH Program Manager, Latin America and the Caribbean, “Nutrition services are a critical component of MFH’s maternal and child health projects. We have extensive experience in the development and implementation of evidence-based nutrition interventions for clinics and communities designed to prevent and treat malnutrition. These programs focus on the provision of nutrition supplements and commodities, integration of government nutrition resources, identification and treatment of malnourished children and pregnant women, establishment of home gardens, and community and household nutrition education.
USAID, the U.S. Agency for International Development, administers the U.S. foreign assistance program providing economic and humanitarian assistance in more than 80 countries worldwide. Medicines for Humanity, our in-country Haiti partners, and the vulnerable Haitian people who have and will continue to benefit from these life-saving efforts remain deeply grateful to USAID and the Food For Peace projects.
Editor’s Notes: “Food For Peace projects are made possible by the generous support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The contents of this newsletter article are the responsibility of Medicines for Humanity and do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID or the United States Government.”
As COVID-19 Cases and Deaths Continue to Rise, MFH and In-Country Partner Efforts Remain Steadfast
In the countries where MFH works, COVID-19 cases are on the increase and conditions continue to deteriorate. Our project partners, most of whom are Catholic Sisters, feel better prepared for the daily challenges because of the resources and training that MFH is providing. Inside clinics and health centers, staff and patients follow the pandemic protocols. Outside on the streets, it is a different matter.
There are many myths and misconceptions about whether COVID-19 is a real threat and the need to take precautions and wear masks. Many people believe this is a ‘white man’s disease,’ or it doesn’t exist at all. To help educate people, MFH is developing a series of local videos with COVID survivors asking them to explain how they contracted the virus, what it felt like when they were sick and what advice they have for others. These videos will be shared via What’s App and social media to raise awareness and help people understand that anyone can be affected by COVID-19.
Emails and calls from Sisters at our project health clinics in Africa and the Caribbean have been extremely moving and gratifying. The materials provided by MFH, thanks to the generosity and compassion of so many of our donors and organizations like the Hilton Fund for Sisters, are the only help they have received. Local health officials are often envious of the supplies and ask for donations to the government. Our efforts have fortified the Sisters abilities to provide life-saving health services and keep themselves and their staff members safe during this pandemic.
Haiti COVID Update
In Haiti, government communications about COVID-19 have been greatly reduced in the past few weeks. There are regulations now requiring people to wear masks to enter business buildings and banks. Most people carry masks with them in case they need them to enter a building, but most do not wear them on the streets. There are more radio ads about COVID prevention and public service announcements paid by companies and political parties. The political debate has stopped since all parties now recognize the reality of COVID-19 in Haiti.
Dominican Republic COVID Update
Cases in the DR continue to rise, along with deaths from COVID-19, but the good news is an increase in the COVID recovery rate. As of Monday, August 24th, there have been more than 91,000 cases and more than COVID-related 1,500 deaths reported. Curfews remain in place and the government has declared a mask mandate, requiring people to wear masks in public at all times.
Cameroon COVID Update
The number of new cases in Cameroon seems to be plateauing, however there are questions about the validity of the testing that is being done and the numbers that are being reported. We are seeing a reduction of COVID-19 cases at health clinics, but it is too early to be confident that this is a credible downward trend. Recently, the government received $226 million from the World Bank to provide free COVID testing in Cameroon.
Zambia COVID Update
In Zambia, there has been a directional change in health messaging aimed at the public. COVID-19 communications have shifted from identifying the danger signs and understanding how the coronavirus is transmitted to new warnings about how to treat the symptoms and de-bunking non-viable prevention remedies or COVID cures. Face masks are now required when out in public and the police are making arrests when people ignore this.
Malawi COVID Update
After a relatively slow start to the virus, COVID-19 cases in Malawi are rising exponentially. The government is responding by putting restrictions in place and closing the borders to travelers. Four of the partner health centers have COVID patients. Thanks to MFH and funding from the Hilton Fund for Sisters, the clinics now have protective equipment and supplies to help us combat this disease.
Kenya COVID Update
Kenya anticipates that September will be the peak month for COVID-19 there. Currently 32,364 cases have been identified with 58% recovery, but sadly 1.7% fatality. The uncertainty regarding the re-opening of schools, colleges and universities is very demanding. It is believed that primary and secondary students will be able to resume studies in January 2021, but that is still in the planning stages.
Sudan COVID Update
“We do not know if there is COVID-19 in the Nuba Mountains of Sudan,” stated MFH Program Director Kenneth Muko. “To understand the impact there, we need to do testing.” As a result, funds have been earmarked to purchase test kits which MFH will deliver to the Mother of Mercy Hospital in Nuba in the coming weeks. “Testing will give us some critically-needed insights about the potential spread of the virus in that region.”
Monsignor Robert J. Vitillo Retires from MFH Board After More Than 20 Years of Service
Monsignor Robert Vitillo answered the call to help Medicines for Humanity (MFH) founder Tim Bilodeau create a model for saving children’s lives from preventable illnesses in vulnerable communities around the world. He joined the Board of Directors in the late 1990s.
Originally from Nutley, NJ, “Monsignor Bob” pursued graduate studies in theology and psychology, and completed a Master of Social Work degree with concentrations in clinical social work and management. He became the Director of Catholic Charities in the Diocese of Paterson, NJ during the 1980s. He then was assigned to serve at Caritas Internationalis (the headquarters of the international Catholic Charities Confederation), based in Vatican City, between 1986 and 1995. It was while he was in that job that he met fellow MFH Board Member David Sauer, who was working for the Catholic Health Association of the United States. The two joined a collaborative effort, in the early 1990s, to help Catholic Church institutions trying to develop dignified services for handicapped children in Romania. Previously, the Church had been oppressed by the Communist regime for many years, and many children had been “warehoused” in large, impersonal conditions at governmental institutions.
Fr. Bob became Executive Director for the Campaign for Human Development at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. From 2005 to 2016, he served as Head of Delegation of Caritas Internationalis in Geneva and as Special Advisor on HIV and AIDS and as Attaché for Health at the Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See to the UN in Geneva. Currently, he is the Secretary General of the International Catholic Migration Commission and continues his service for the Holy See Mission to the UN in Geneva.
Dave Sauer was always impressed with Msgr. Bob’s dedication to humanitarian causes and his tireless pursuit of justice. “He’s a worker, no question,” said Dave. “Over his career, he’s traveled hundreds of thousands of miles to build humanitarian relationships and fight for causes that need support.”
MFH Founder Tim Bilodeau has continually expressed his admiration, respect, and appreciation for Msgr. Bob. “His extensive experience in international healthcare and social service has always been a great benefit to the development and growth of MFH. He has always been a champion for vulnerable and marginalized people.”
When asked what Monsignor Bob’s most significant contribution has been to the development and growth of Medicines for Humanity Tim replied, “From early on, Monsignor Bob played a key role on the MFH Board. His knowledge and reputation greatly enhanced MFH’s ability to reach out and collaborate with Catholic religious communities and organizations involved in international aid. We are grateful for Msgr. Bob’s influence, credibility, counsel, and kindness provided immeasurable assistance to MFH.”
Welcome New MFH Staff Additions
Monitoring and Evaluation Coordinator
Marie Darline Jean, MD
Project Coordinator, Haiti
Project Manager, Zambia