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Posts Tagged ‘Africa’

The Tribal Health Project

Wednesday, January 26th, 2011

Tribal Health Project

Post by Murali Bashyam

“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

-        Henry de Bracton

It was sometime in late 2010 when I received a call from Dr. Maria Del Pilar Corena, founder of World Solutions Against Infectious Diseases (WSAID).  As usual, she was bristling with excitement.  Maria was telling me about a new project idea intended to help tribes around the world with disease prevention.

The project has two main goals:

1.     To study tribes and document their natural medicinal practices, perceptions of disease, and their treatment of Malaria, Dengue, Chagas and Leishmaniasis, and

2.     To use the local tribal health practices and incorporate modern scientific knowledge and practices to develop effective tools to educate tribes about insect transmitted diseases and disease prevention.

The premise of this idea is based on Mr. Alejandro Valencia-Tobon’s work in rural Colombia. He conducted question/answer sessions to gain valuable information from communities affected by the Leishmaniasis disease. Mr. Valencia-Tobon put that knowledge to work by creating audiovisuals that captured the community’s perception of Leishmaniasis, which were then used to help educate them on prevention and treatment of the disease.

Maria’s plan is to use a similar approach to document tribal notions on insect transmitted diseases, incorporate it with modern scientific/biomedical knowledge, and develop tools to help educate tribes threatened by Malaria, Dengue, Leishmaniais and Chagas.

She asked if we would be interested in helping with the educational part of the project.

Since sustainable health solutions is a part of our mission, we partnered with WSAID and PECET, a research organization in Columbia, South America, and submitted this project proposal to the Wellcome Trust.

Why is This Project Important?

Traditional plant medicines often play a key role in drug discovery. Researchers working on drug development are generally not exposed to the tribal knowledge that contributed to their discovery. Tribal knowledge is valuable in identifying specific natural products that lead to disease treatment.

Development, tourism and conflicts have contributed to increased biodiversity losses and tribal extinction.  But the most significant contributors to increased biodiversity losses and tribal extinction are insect-transmitted diseases such as Malaria, Leishmaniasis, Dengue, and Chagas.  If these communities are destroyed, their tribal knowledge will also be lost forever.

The main goal of this project is to help reduce the rate of tribal extinction.

One objective for the achievement of this goal is to preserve valuable tribal knowledge.  This knowledge, in conjunction with modern scientific practices, can then be used to develop effective tools to educate tribes about insect transmitted diseases and disease prevention.  Tools such as audiovisuals and hands-on approaches can be created to illustrate differences between insects, habitats, and transmission cycles.

The regions chosen for this three-year study include: 1) Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, Colombia, South America (Koguis tribe), 2) Western Ghats, Madurai, India (Paliyan tribe) and 3) Subsaharan Africa, Mali (Dogon tribe). All three regions are classified as high biodiversity endangered ecosystems.

Project Engagement and Goals

Interventions to improve public health are most effective when communities understand, participate in and benefit from the research process. Isolated tribal communities are often not included in traditional research and interventions, and their medicinal knowledge is not disseminated.

In the first phase of this project with the Koguis Tribe in Colombia, our team plans to film interactions with the tribe, documenting their medicinal and tribal practices. These interactions will be used to develop tools necessary to educate them on various aspects of tropical diseases and the insects that cause them in a manner consistent with their practices.

This project will also provide others with information on how modern knowledge on these diseases can be translated into simple tools to educate tribes across the world on disease treatment and prevention. We hope to establish inclusive dialogue with teachers, researchers, scientists, officers and the general public to develop better and more creative educational tools to be used in other phases of the project in Africa and India. One key objective is to educate public and health professionals so they understand how tribes perceive tropical diseases.

The expected project outcomes can be summarized with four words: 1) knowledge, 2) education, (3) prevention, and 4) collaboration.

Knowledge – We expect to develop a greater understanding of tribal perceptions of tropical diseases such as malaria, dengue, chagas and leishmaniasis, and medicinal practices used to prevent/treat them. This knowledge will be disseminated to other health professionals and the general public around the world.

Education We will take the collective knowledge gained through our interactions with tribes and other collaborators, and incorporate it with modern scientific/biomedical knowledge to develop audiovisual tools and other hands-on approaches to educate tribes on the differences between various diseases and the insects that transmit them.

mosquito

Prevention We believe that knowledge and education, when applied together and in a manner consistent with local tribal health practices, will lead to decreased insect disease transmission within tribal communities. This will lead to decreases in sickness and loss of life.

Collaboration Collaboration with health professionals and researchers in various countries, as well as collaboration with tribes and other interested parties, will lead to an exchange of knowledge on tropical diseases in a way that is consistent with tribal health practices. This collaboration will lead to long-term relationships that will promote understanding of health issues affecting tribal communities, and the development of simple educational tools to disseminate modern scientific knowledge.

When Will This Project Start?

The Wellcome Trust is expected to make a decision on this project proposal in March 2011. We will keep you updated on the tribal health project, as well as our partnership with WSAID, throughout the course of the year.

Kibera Kids Teach Us A Lesson On Happiness

Monday, August 23rd, 2010

Guest Post by: Rachel Prather (daughter, Pam Prather, Vice President of Friends Unite)

Kibera1

When I stepped out of the car, the first thing I noticed was the smell.  We had driven through streets that were mostly unpaved and past homes and shops that were made of wood with tin roofs.  I noticed all of these things on the way to Kibera, Kenya, Africa, but the first thing that struck me when I stepped out of the car was the smell.

I thought to myself, “How can these people live here?”  That question lingered for the rest of the morning.

We walked through the streets of the slum, on our way to a new health clinic supported by Carolina for Kibera.  I was wearing a skirt, as we were advised that it would be culturally insensitive for the women to wear pants or shorts.  I was also wearing flip-flops. Kibera6

We were not prepared for what awaited us on the fifteen minute walk to the clinic. I held my skirt up and paid attention to each step as I walked over the visible waste that was part of our path. I watched in shock as I saw residents dumping waste from buckets into the crowded street/sewage system.  I had never seen anything like this.

Some people ignored us, some people greeted us, some shook our hands, others just stared.  It was as if we were walking down a street back home, but it was also very different at the same time.  We were there to observe, to learn and absorb the current state there.

As soon as the kids spotted us, they shouted loudly and often – “How are you?  How are you?”  If we answered them, “I am fine!” they would laugh; delighted to hear English spoken from a native English-speaker.

It was the children who changed the course of my morning.  They were happy, and smiling.  It was hard for me to believe that children in this type of squalor would be able to smile.  And yet, here they were, as polite as can be, greeting strangers into their neighborhood.

The children in the slums were all smiles.  But, how?  Perhaps, because they are alive, most of them probably have parents, they probably have a place to live, and they just enough food to survive.

It could also be because they don’t know any better. We could attribute their happiness to the innocence of the child’s mind. They are not yet aware of the “reality” in Kibera.

What is that reality?

Although 1.5 million people live in the Kibera slum of Nairobi, the largest slum in Africa, Kenya’s government does not acknowledge its existence. The government contends that the massive population is illegally squatting on government land, and thus refuses to provide infrastructure: schools, hospitals, or sanitation. Women are left especially devastated in Kibera as men control existing scarce resources. In Kenya, 33% of women trade sex to survive by 16; in Kibera, 66% of girls trade sex for food as early as 6. Women in Kibera contract HIV at a rate 5 times their male counterparts: Kibera has one of the world’s highest HIV rates. Only 8% of women ever attend school. 1 of 5 children do not live to see a 5th birthday. 7 of 10 women will experience violence. No statistic ultimately captures the severity of Kibera’s human crisis.

There are many members of my generation and younger that take many things for granted.  When their iPod breaks, they get very upset.  It could possibly mean the end of the world – until they get a new one. Maybe, just maybe, if they spent a day with happy children, children who have less “stuff” but just as many things to be happy about, they would get a little tug on their heartstrings.  Maybe it would put things into perspective. Maybe.

I can’t say that my life has turned upside down after visiting the slums of Kibera.  However, I can say that my life has changed in many seemingly insignificant ways.

This month, I start my first year as a high school teacher, and I have already written lesson plans that revolve around my experience in Kibera.

I am grateful that my mom, Pam Prather, and her friend, Murali Bashyam, let us tag along on their trip to Kibera, Kenya.  I have told others of my experience, in the hopes that they will be inspired to visit.  I have started looking at children differently – where does consumerism begin and creativity end?  The most important end I hope to achieve is the education of my students; education about other cultures and other people.

That is something that we all need to be aware of.

WSAID and the Leishmaniasis Project

Sunday, May 16th, 2010

By Murali Bashyam

We like to bring people and organizations together to help achieve common goals.  So when Deborah Loercher, President of Anoroc Agency, told me that I need to speak with Maria Corena-McLeod, a Director with the World Solutions Against Infectious Diseases (WSAID), I immediately jumped at the opportunity to learn more about Maria and her work with WSAID.

WSAID is the first non-profit organization dedicated to finding and implementing integrated, self-sustainable solutions to infectious disease control in affected communities. Their mission is to create strategies to provide education, research support and technical assistance to improve human health and decrease disease transmission and its causes worldwide.  Since one important mission of Friends Unite is creating sustainable health programs, I thought a strong nexus might exist between our two organizations.

During our conversation, Maria told me about the interesting and creative ways WSAID was working to combat infectious diseases in communities around the world.  I was also impressed by the passion Maria had for her work with WSAID, and the aggressive approach she took in partnering with others to advance the mission of WSAID.  We  agreed that since both our organizations are based on teamwork and share a common mission, we should find opportunities to work together.

A few days later, Maria called me about partnering on a project to educate communities in Haiti and Africa on the Leishmaniasis disease.  Leishmaniasis is transmitted by infected sand flies and causes severe skin sores in humans.  In its most extreme form, called Visceral Leishmaniasis, it can spread to vital organs and cause death if it is not treated properly.  Although there is no vaccine to combat Leishmaniasis, the best way to prevent it is to treat the infection before it spreads.

WSAID’s novel plan is to use soil samples collected near animal enclosures in proximity with human dwellings to develop a low-cost method for identifying Leishmania parasites and sand fly vectors.  Once the  Leishmaniasis ‘hot spots’ are identified, we can educate these communities and local Nongovernmental Organizations (NGOs) on the Leishmaniasis disease, how to identify it, and how to treat it.

We will be submitting this proposal to the Gates Foundation for Phase 1 funding this week.   If approved by the foundation, WSAID, Friends Unite, and others will implement this plan to help prevent the spread of the Leishmaniasis disease.  In the meantime, we urge you to read this informative web site created by Alejandro Tobon, a young Scientist from Columbia who has developed creative ways to educate the public on the Leishmaniasis disease.