Tuesday, June 23, 2015

How Mali conquered Ebola

These signs -- which say "Stop the Ebola virus: Wash your hands regularly with soap" are still ubiquitous around Bamako three months after WHO declared Mali Ebola-free.
These signs — which say “Stop the Ebola virus: Wash your hands regularly with soap” are still ubiquitous around Bamako three months after WHO declared Mali Ebola-free.

This blog originally appeared on Global Health TV on April 28, 2015.

BAMAKO, Mali — In the year-old Ebola epidemic, most of the attention has justifiably been focused on Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, where the vast majority of the cases (26,044) and deaths (10,808) have taken place. But what about those countries that have successfully controlled Ebola — Mali, Nigeria, Senegal, Spain, the UK and the US — which account for only 35 cases and 15 deaths? 

I am spending two months in one of those countries and wondered how Mali conquered Ebola. Even though the World Health Organization (WHO) had declared Mali Ebola-free in January, I had barely stepped off my airplane at Bamako–Sénou International Airport on March 14 when I encountered Ebola control: I was scanned for a fever and offered hand sanitizer before entering the airport terminal.

Mali went on high alert after confirming its first case of Ebola in late October of last year, when a 2-year-old girl who had traveled from Guinea to Mali died. The country moved quickly in what the government considered an emergency situation. The child, who was symptomatic upon her arrival in Mali, had traveled extensively in the country using public transportation. Aggressive contact tracing was undertaken but none of the contacts showed symptoms.

It looked like the country had dodged a bullet, with only one death. But then an imam from Guinea was admitted to Bamako’s prestigious Pasteur Clinic with a diagnosis of acute kidney failure, and died on Oct. 27. That case set off a chain of transmission that led to seven additional Ebola cases and five deaths, including a doctor and nurse who had treated the imam. He was buried with full traditional rites, including washing of his highly contagious body, which may have exposed mourners to the virus.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Three world-changers: Drones, sanitary pads and schools

This blog originally appeared on Humanosphere on April 20, 2015.

On the Pacific archipelago nation of Vanuatu, a “digital humanitarian” has been using drones to carry out a detailed assessment of the damage caused by Cyclone Pam last month.

In Rwanda, a young African woman is improving the lives of other young women by the simple act of providing them with locally made sanitary pads so they don’t miss work and school.

And in Kenya, a man who grew up in extreme poverty, without formal education, is building schools and fighting poverty and gender inequality in the worst slums of Nairobi. New York Times Columnist Nicholas Kristof says he might be the next Mandela.

All of these young people are trying to change the world in very different ways. Along with at least 50 others, they will be in Saxapahaw, North Carolina April 23-24 for the fourth annual SwitchPoint, a global gathering organized by IntraHealth International (which I need to disclose is one of my clients).

Thursday, June 18, 2015

West Africa finally starting to embrace family planning

A health worker counsels a client in rural Senegal on family planning options. Photo courtesy of IntraHealth International, © 2014 by Jonathan Torgovnik/Reportage by Getty Images
This blog originally appeared on Global Health TV on March 24, 2015.
BAMAKO, Mali  When my wife and I lived here in the late 1980s and early 1990s, our housekeeper, Korotumu, hid her birth control pills on the top shelf in our kitchen, so her husband would not find out she was using contraception. He was unemployed and they had two children. Koro figured that two was enough, at least as long as her husband was not working.
I didn’t realize it then, but Koro was in a progressive minority of Malian women at that time. The 1987 Demographic and Health Survey of Mali revealed only 1.3% of married women were using modern contraception and the fertility rate (the average number of children a woman has in her lifetime) was 7.1. Koro was part of that 1.3%.
Flash forward a quarter of a century and what has happened in Mali? Use of modern contraception has increased to 9.9% and the fertility rate has dropped from 7.1 to 6.1.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Reaching the unreached with family planning in India

A Janani mobile family planning van registers new users in India.
This blog was first published by Impatient Optimists blog on March 13, 2015.

By the time the brightly colored family planning van pulls into the government health center in a village in northern India, a group of young women is waiting. They have come to adopt a high quality modern method of contraception. They have already been pre-screened and most have chosen either an intrauterine device (IUD) or tubal ligation but the van also offers methods like condoms, oral contraceptives, injectables and emergency contraceptives, according to their needs.

Some of them have three, four or more children, and want no more. For many of them, it is the first time they have practiced family planning. The fertility rate in the states of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, according to the last India National Family Health Survey 2005-2006, was 4.0 and 3.82 children respectively, the highest and second highest in all of India.

Some 270 such “mobile family planning days” were conducted in 2013 and 2014 in a pilot project with one van, creating 2,800 new IUD clients, and counseling 1,600 women who came for follow-up visits. With support from The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation — in partnership with CARE, the University of Manitoba and Marie Stopes International — this program has expanded from one to 20 outreach teams that provide IUD and sterilization services for women, and non scalpel vasectomy for men. The operation is run by Janani, an affiliate of the international social marketing organization DKT International.