Category Archives: Health

World Polio Day 2017…and Why It Matters

World Polio Day 2017…and Why It Matters
My Mother

Childhood Photo of My Mother

She had one leg shorter than the other.  Not in such a glaringly obvious way that one would immediately notice, but you could tell if you studied her walk or she pointed it out to you, like she did to me when I was little.

I couldn’t fully understand the story as a child, but my mother had contracted Polio when she was around three years old, and almost died.  I remember that part because she had two names.   Mildred was the name she was given at birth, and Goldie was the name she was re-named after she had recovered, as is customary in the case of near death experiences in the Jewish religion.

By the time I was born, the Polio vaccine had been developed and was administered widely to children in the United States.  Polio was nearly eradicated in this country by then, and so the story of my mother’s near death from Polio became to me a long-ago folk tale from her childhood.

Sadly, that has not been the case for the rest of the world.  Sure the numbers have dropped 99.9% since 1988 when there were 350,000 known cases around the world, to the 37 reported cases in 2016.   Still, the fact is, that as long as Polio remains in even one child, children the world over are at risk of contracting the disease.  The victims of the highly infectious Poliomyelitis virus that attacks the nervous system are usually children younger than five years old.

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Inspiring Women: Felisa Hilbert

Inspiring Women: Felisa Hilbert

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“I was introduced to the community of Tetzilquila, a little village in the mountains of Mixtla de Altamirano near Orizaba, Veracruz.  To get there we drove several hours until there was no road, and then we hiked a couple more to get there.  When we got to the top after all that walking, there was nothing there!  I asked where the community was… it was down, another 800 meters, with no clear path marked through giant rocks, vegetation and slippery soil.  Finally, it was there in the bottom that we encountered a community of 40 families who did not speak Spanish – they still spoke the pure language of the Aztecs, called Nahuatl.  Only a few adults spoke Spanish.  Once there I could see the hard conditions they lived in and the poor status of nutrition in both the children and the adults.  Their leader told me through an interpreter that they had to walk many miles to go to the closest little town to buy their needs, but then they had to walk even farther to get basic medical care.   I had the interpreter (who came with us) ask the mothers about their priorities and current problems.   Little by little their shyness disappeared and they started talking one by one.  It was an incredible experience to hear them talk about children getting sick, some diseases the suffered and their needs.  As they spoke more I found that I could understand a lot of what they were saying.  The interpreter was surprised and I was surprised; but I learned from the experience that motherhood is universal and did not need a language to communicate.  I fell in love with this community and knew I found a place to start a clinic.” – Felisa Hilbert

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In honor of World Immunization Week I interviewed my friend Felisa Hilbert whom I met through our work with the United Nations Foundation Shot@Life campaign advocating for global vaccines. Through Shot@Life I have met some of the most incredible people, doing the most amazing things. Her name says it all.  Felisa lights up a room with her enthusiasm and treats everyone she meets with warmth. She has also taken it upon herself to build health clinics in the most far-flung, hard to reach rural villages in Mexico. Through her work she has not only saved lives, but transformed communities. Felisa is another great example of how much one woman can achieve when she puts her mind to it! Among other things, these clinics provide the children of these villages access to life saving vaccines that they otherwise would not have had. Nearly 1/3rd of childhood deaths under the age of five around the world are due to vaccine preventable diseases.  Vaccines save lives. 

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Elizabeth: What was your background before becoming a Shot@Life Champion and builder of rural health clinics?

Felisa: From the moment I moved to US I always volunteered in different organizations wherever we lived.  When my husband (Dan) was transferred with the Army to Broken Arrow, Oklahoma and my children started elementary school I volunteered in the local schools for 4 years and later became an ELL bilingual Assistant.  As such, I taught, interpreted and translated for students from many countries in ELL Classes (ELL =English Language Learners) in the Broken Arrow Public Schools for a total of 19 years.

 

E:  What inspired you to become a Shot@Life Champion?

F: I was an RN working on a post-grad psychiatry specialty before I married my husband In Mexico.  During my 4 years of nursing and after I graduated as an RN I volunteered all my free time and participated in Preventive Medicine campaigns.  In these campaigns I worked with teams of doctors and nurses in many vaccines campaigns in impoverish communities.  We also provided and taught basic medical care needed in these remote communities located far away from established medical clinics and basic community health services.  It was there that my love for global health causes was born.  I attended and saw many cases where pain and suffering could be alleviated with basic medical care and immunizations. There were also many sad stories where I felt powerless to save the lives of many precious children.  In early 2011 I was selected by Parenting Magazine for the Mom Congress in Washington DC as a delegate representative from the State of Oklahoma.  This gave me a wonderful opportunity to share my passion for the children’s issues, allowing me to advocate for them in my state at a different level with a bigger audience.  It was there in DC that Mom Congress selected 5 of us to attend the first Shot@life Summit on January 30, 2012 to introduce the new United Nations Foundation Shot@Life campaign.  From the beginning of that summit I knew that this was exactly what I had been looking for, for many years.  Simply put: I believe in the cause!  I saw firsthand what happens to children in poor countries; I already knew that vaccines save lives…  and my nursing background was perfect!

   

E: What made you decide to initiate these clinics in rural Mexico?

F: My experiences as a nurse and 20 months of being a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Saints in many rural areas in different states of Mexico made me promise myself and want to do more than just humanitarian missions with needed items during summer or spring breaks.  It was not enough to save lives, especially in the many remote and far-away villages.  Children and families were still getting sick and didn’t have access to basic medical care.  I am a woman of faith, so I pray for guidance and a way to do more – and with my nursing background, building a little health clinic was the answer.  While in Washington DC for a conference in the summer 2014, I offered to interpret for some government officials in the delegation from Mexico when I saw their difficulties with the English language.  Later they saw me speak about global health, education and poverty then afterward; we exchanged cards and contact information.  Several months later I received an invitation to go to Mexico and train some of their professionals about global issues, poverty and how to empower the new generation.  I accepted and conducted training seminars in 3 states, one of them in my home state of Veracruz.  As part of the training I asked that we go to the field together where they could show me their nearby communities in need of help.  It was there that I was introduced to the community of Tetzilquila, a little village in the mountains of Mixtla de Altamirano near Orizaba, Veracruz.  To get there we drove several hours until there was no road, and then we hiked a couple more to get there.  When we got to the top after all that walking, there was nothing there!  I asked where the community was… it was down, another 800 meters, with no clear path marked through giant rocks, vegetation and slippery soil.  Finally, it was there in the bottom that we encountered a community of 40 families who did not speak Spanish – they still spoke the pure language of the Aztecs, called Nahuatl.  Only a few adults spoke Spanish.  Once there I could see the hard conditions they lived in and the poor status of nutrition in both the children and the adults.  Their leader told me through an interpreter that they had to walk many miles to go to the closest little town to buy their needs, but then they had to walk even farther to get basic medical care.   I had the interpreter (who came with us) ask the mothers about their priorities and current problems.   Little by little their shyness disappeared and they started talking one by one.  It was an incredible experience to hear them talk about children getting sick, some diseases the suffered and their needs.  As they spoke more I found that I could understand a lot of what they were saying.  The interpreter was surprised and I was surprised; but I learned from the experience that motherhood is universal and did not need a language to communicate.  I fell in love with this community and knew I found a place to start a clinic. 

 

E:  Did you ever think it was not possible?

F: Not ever!  I am an eternal optimist!  I knew that it would require a lot of sacrifices, but if I worked very hard – and with and through these people – it would happen.  In the past I had done other projects, so I was prepared to work very hard to make it happen.  To fund the construction of the clinic I went into an intense fund-raising mode for the following year.  During this time I sold my own jewelry, unneeded possessions of value around the house, did a yard sale and a restaurant night fundraiser, sold 500 Mexican tamales.  Also 3 years ago I started to make Jewelry for sale and put my Facebook page Jewelry with a Purpose with all the profits going to the clinic and Shot@life or African school children.

 

E: Were you ever in fear of your safety?

F: No, I have traveled and served in many communities all of my adult life and I have only found kindness, gratefulness and love from the people I have served and loved.  The Tetzilquila community adopted me in their community and I am so grateful for the opportunity to serve them.

 

E: How have the communities responded to the clinics?

F: The response was incredible from the beginning.  My personal goal is always to empower communities I serve and to involve them as part of the planning and solutions by making them partners in the effort.  Their response has been very enthusiastic through the meetings and planning, especially as they realize their integral role in the decision-making process.  They signed a commitment to provide the actual labor once I raised the funds necessary to purchase the construction materials.  In so doing the have been 100% partners in the effort – and their pride shows!  For example, it was like a community holiday when the material arrived and everyone showed up to hand-carry everything in to the construction site.  Remember my description of the trip there… yes, they enthusiastically and almost joyfully hand-carried everything in! It was even a more joyful community celebration when we finally inaugurated the clinic.  Now other communities had heard about it and are eager to do the same thing for themselves.  Right now I have 2 others in the initial planning stages for their own clinics.  This is so exciting!

 

E:  What changes have you seen as a result?

F: Besides the enthusiasm we’ve witnessed in seeing the community come together, there has been the obvious benefit to their healthcare.  On September the 1st, 2016 we attended 120 patients the first day of operation.  The medical team and I gave vaccines shots for measles & polio, fluids & parasite purges and give consult to adults.  Since that day a doctor and nurse (or student nurses) come to the clinic to attend patients on a weekly basis.  It has been interesting to watch the community become self-actuating and empowered in other areas of need.  They are learning to advocate for themselves with area governments and now we are working to open a road through the mountains; with the help of World Vision Mexico they have constructed 20 tanks to collect rain water; and with the help of the local National Action Party (PAN) has constructed several new tiny one room concrete homes. 

 

E:  How do you see them becoming sustainable?

F: In watching them in the other projects I just described, one can see how they are taking ownership of their situation & its solutions – and are learning that they have rights and can use them.  We are teaching them everything that they need to know to be a healthy community.  They knew from the beginning that this was their clinic and that they will have to take care of it.

 

E: Where do your supplies come from?

F: From all the fundraisers I mentioned above: my “Jewelry with a Purpose” sales, and from individual donations from friends and family.  Donations and ideas are always welcome!

 

E:  Have you partnered with any other organizations?

F: I have partnered with the Veracruz regional leaders of World Vision Mexico.  This project started because of the training seminars I taught for them.  Since then they have been a key part of supervising the work when I have been absent, providing interpreters and a driver to accompany me during my visits.  In my end I have trained all their personnel about how to help communities survive, social promotion, the language of communication with people of different cultures, social empowerment, etc.

 

E:  What’s next for you?

F: I’m still putting the finishing touches on the Tetzilquila clinic.  I still need some items like a scale, 20 chairs and an exam room.  This February (2017), the community of Xometla opened their own clinic based on what we did in Tetzilquila.  They also need all the furniture and basic furnishings.  These communities are amazing!  I will be busy working and finding resources to keep helping and empowering them and other communities – and make sure that their children their will go to school and grow healthy and free of childhood diseases.

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Felisa you are such an inspiration to me! 

Follow Felisa on Twitter  and Instagram to keep up with her projects.

The Importance of Physical Education For Kids

The Importance of Physical Education For Kids

IMG_6837This post reflects a compensated editorial partnership with Voices for Healthy Kids, a joint initiative of the American Heart Association and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Parenting is somewhat of a social experiment, especially when you have multiple kids with different personalities. But as a mother to four kids there are a few certainties that have worked across the board for all of mine. If my kids don’t get enough sleep, they are a mess the next day. If they are hungry, they get cranky, and if they don’t get the opportunity to get out and do something active each day, they get rambunctious. My kids are much more likely to settle down and concentrate when they have had the chance to get some exercise at some point in their day. I feel like those are all pretty common findings among parents. My husband is a physician specializing in cardiac imaging, so he comes at the importance of physical activity from not only a behavioral perspective as a parent, but with knowledge on what a healthy heart looks like. And he comes home from work emphasizing how important physical fitness is to our overall health. I am thrilled to partner with Voices for Healthy Kids, a joint initiative of the American Heart Association and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, in advocating for expanded physical education in schools.

Active kids simply learn better.

Our elementary physical education teacher, Ms. Carr taught all four of our kids. Her energy and enthusiasm helped early on to nurture their enjoyment in being active. It became clear to me watching my children thrive, and become more confident under her guidance, how important establishing healthy habits is during primary school for kids. My youngest is now in middle school, but PE is still one of his favorite subjects, and Ms. Carr will always be one of their all time favorite teachers. More recently our state of Rhode Island passed a bond supporting improved parks, bike paths, and recreational areas. As parents, having safe, natural spaces will help to give us more opportunities to augment the 100 minutes per week of physical education required of schools in our state.

Regular physical activity has been scientifically proven to have positive benefits to both body and mind, yet it is too often one of the first programs to be cut from school budgets. It is associated with longer life, lower risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, obesity, and even some cancers, physical fitness lowers the risk of mental health problems, and it has been shown to improve academic performance. These benefits are true for all children, no matter where they live, in a rural or urban setting, regardless of race, ethnic, or socio-economic factors. Where a child lives should not dictate their health. Unfortunately, racial and socio-economic inequalities leave many schools without the resources necessary to provide physical education to their kids.

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Research shows that kids need 60 minutes of physical activity each day yet only 4% of elementary schools, 8% of middle schools, and 2% of high schools provide daily PE or its equivalent for the entire school year. Parent polls show that 95% understand the importance of incorporating PE into the school curriculum. That means that we, as parents, need to raise our voices and make sure that we are looking out for all children in our country by advocating for the inclusion of Physical Education in every state under the federal education law Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA. If health and physical education are not core components of the plan, programs will not have access to the funding needed to keep them running.

Our children are the future, and it is up to us as parents to make sure that we are laying the groundwork for their ability to best succeed. Expanded physical education positively impacts the physical, emotional, and mental health of our children, while improving their academic performance. Learn how you can help to give all children the best groundwork for success with increased PE in your community by visiting the Voices For Healthy Kids website.

NovaVeil Provides Zika Protection With Insect Repellent Apparel

NovaVeil Provides Zika Protection With Insect Repellent Apparel

NovaVeilLast year’s Zika crisis may not be making regular headlines these days, but the Zika virus remains a continuing health threat. According to the World Health Organization it is now categorized along the lines of Malaria or Yellow Fever. New challenges are arising for the families of babies born with microcephaly and other health problems due to the virus, while babies impacted by the ZIka virus continue to be born. There is a vaccine in development, and promising research to curtail the spread of the virus, but pregnant women in at risk areas still have to live with the daily fear that their unborn child will be infected by Zika.  

Meg Wirth and Allison Cote founded Maternova to specialize in women’s health solutions. When the Zika crisis hit they realized that the world could not wait the potential years that it could take to bring a vaccine to market.  Women and babies are the population most directly impacted by the consequences of the virus,  at Maternova they knew that a viable everyday solution was needed to help women to continue to live their daily lives.

At a Zika Innovation Hackathon through CAMTech at Mass General Hospital the Maternova team was awarded initial funding to help launch NovaVeil. They then enlisted Alessandra Gold, a Brazilian-born, Miami-based award-winning designer to create a four piece capsule collection of mosquito repellent, yet fashionable, maternity clothing. In a sense the clothing will help to do during the day what mosquito netting does at night.

“There is a massive amount of literature on bed nets and protecting women and families at nighttime from Malaria, but there was very little out there about protection during the daytime. In part that’s because this is a brand new technology.”

– Meg Wirth, Co-Founder of Maternova

Using a non-permethrin nano-technology patented in Europe, the insect repellent is embedded into the textile of the garments on a molecular level.  The NovaVeil collection is launching with a maternity line that features a dress, a cardigan with a hood, a scarf, and leggings, all designed to be comfortably worn in warm climates. The Aedes mosquitos, which are the type of mosquito that transmit Zika, Dengue and Chikungunya, bite during the day, so not only do the NovaVeil garments provide protection from the Zika virus, but from other insect born illnesses such as Malaria, Dengue, Chikungunya, and even lyme disease.

The goal was to appeal to and be able to reach women across the economic spectrum, so sales of NovaVeil garments in high-end areas will help to subsidizes providing garments in lower-income areas. It turns out that the cost per wear of the clothing, which remains effective through 50 wash cycles (and when tested was still 60% effective after 90 washes) will be less expensive than it would be to apply insect repellent every day. NOVAVeil side cardigan

Maternova partnered with Americares by adding a NovaVeil maternity top to anti-Zika mother kits they were already giving to their pregnant patients at a health clinic in El Salvador. The goal now is to continue to offer the NovaVeil line at either no cost or low-cost to distribution partners in Latin America in hopes of protecting some of the world’s most vulnerable women, while widening distribution so that pregnant women everywhere can feel safe from the threat of Zika in their everyday lives.  My bet is that, before long, NovaVeil fashionable mosquito repellent apparel will be in high demand for a broader clientele such as aid workers, travelers, and journalists. 

I became an investor in NovaVeil when Maternova announced that it was using the crowdfunding-investment platform Republic to bring NovaVeil apparel to market. Republic enables anyone to invest in socially driven companies not matter how much or how little one has to give. Through Republic Maternova raised over 100% of their goal and fully funded the launch of NovaVeil.   I felt strongly that I wanted to support Maternova as a local, social enterprise, founded by women, and dedicated to improving the lives of women around the world.  

When women help women helping other women, the world becomes a better place for us all.

March 22nd is World Water Day

March 22nd is World Water Day
Clean Water / Collecting water in rural Haiti

Photo: Elizabeth Atalay

March 22nd is World Water Day, a day to bring attention to the over 600 million people in the world without access to clean water. Access to clean water and sanitation are key to breaking the cycle of extreme poverty, and  women and girls are the most highly impacted when lacking those basic human necessities.

In many areas girls miss out on school because they spend most of their day walking miles to collect water for their families. Girls who do make it to school often drop out once menstruation begins due to lack of facilities. UNICEF reports that approximately 6,000 children die of water related diseases every day, most under the age of five. 

Clean Water / water pump in Haiti

Photo: Elizabeth Atalay

WaterAid is the leading international nonprofit in the clean water, sanitation and hygiene sector, and has called on Congress to oppose the proposed 28.7% cut to funding for the US Agency for International Development and Department of State, proposed in the Fiscal Year 2018 Budget Blueprint. WaterAid states that this action is “out of line with America’s priorities, US moral leadership, national security interests, and the needs of poor and vulnerable people worldwide.” I stand with WaterAid in calling on Congress to fully fund international assistance.

The recently launched WaterAid #GirlStrong campaign takes aim at the inequalities faced disproportionately by women and girls who live without clean water and proper sanitation. Access to clean water opens up access to better health, and more time for education.  It is estimated that somewhere around 260 billion dollars are lost from the global economy due to reduced productivity and health care costs from illnesses linked to lack of clean drinking water, poor sanitation, and hygiene. Watch the video below to see more reasons why access to clean water needs to be a priority for all.

#WorldWaterDay