Nov. 23, 2015 | Christian Post

My involvement with issues surrounding maternal and child health began in 1997 when our oldest daughter, Emily, and I traveled to Haiti. It was my first time to visit a developing nation; I was heartbroken and challenged by what I saw and experienced. I will never forget walking the streets of Port-au-Prince, hand-in-hand with my daughter, and being approached by a Haitian mother with a young child on her hip. "Please, please, oh please," she begged me, "Please, take my child with you."

I believe her plea was one of loving desperation. Reflecting on the sacrifice his son's birthmother made in choosing to place her child for adoption, theologian Miroslav Volf writes, "She loved [my son] for his own sake, and therefore would rather suffer his absence if he flourished than enjoy his presence if he languished."

Mothers and their children should be able to remain together. It is a bond and relationship that is not easily broken. A mother wants to provide the very best for her child, and she will go to great lengths to do so. But, often due to circumstances beyond a woman's control, mothers around the world feel forced to make a decision between her child's wellbeing and her familial integrity. I can't imagine the anguish and heartbreak these women experience feeling incapable of fulfilling their desire to nurture and protect their own. I think of the women who birthed our three youngest daughters; I can't imagine feeling coerced, whether it be because of extreme poverty, oppressive sexism, or government regulations, to forever separate myself from my child.

Read the full post on the Christian Post.

Nov. 16, 2015 | Patheos

November is Orphan Awareness Month. It is a time to raise awareness and funding for the millions of children around the world displaced by HIV/AIDS and extreme poverty.  According to UNICEF, there are over 153 million children worldwide who have lost one or both parents. Of these orphans, HIV/AIDS has orphaned 17.9 million of these children, most of them in Sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia.

There is good news.  The peak deaths has been reached, in 2005, and since then AIDS related deaths have declined by 30% worldwide. Moreover, while in 2002, less than 50,000 people in Africa had access to anti-retro viral (ARV) medications, today, over 10 million people across Sub-Saharan Africa have access to ARVs thanks to U.S. global leadership and American tax dollars.

With this decline should also come the decline in orphans, as well. More parents will live robust lives. More families will stay together. And more children can stay children, without becoming adults too early in life shepherding younger brothers and sisters.

This being said, there are miles to go and many children who still need our support.

As we pause to reflect on the orphanhood crisis this month, perhaps beyond awareness  and fundraising, albeit necessary, we could also reconsider the role of prevention.

There are over 220 million women around the world who say that they want to avoid their next pregnancy but they lack the education or resources to do so. Many of these women are child brides, married by the time they are sixteen wishing to delay the debut of their first pregnancy so that they can stay in school and finish their education. Some of these women have had several children, and they simply cannot afford to feed or educate each child each day and wonder how they will ever support yet another.

And, very sadly, many of these women – that is, more than 287,000 – will die due to complications in pregnancy and childbirth. These younger women, if in their late teens, are three times more likely to die than if they could wait until after twenty years of age to have their first child. Yet, over 80 percent of these deaths are preventable and treatable.

When a mother dies during childbirth, the newborn is ten times more likely to die within two years of their mother’s death.

We can address these issues. We can contribute to ending the orphanhood crisis.

One critical intervention is healthy timing and spacing of pregnancies (HTSP) for women in developing nations.  If we can address these millions of women with the knowledge and access to contraceptives to better time and space their children, we can save lives, close the gap on maternal mortality, and contribute to the prevention of orphanhood among children.

One great example of a faith-based program deploying HTSP is World Visions’ MOMENT projects in Kenya and India. The goal of these projects is to increase women’s access to high-quality, voluntary family planning services using community-led meetings and local networks so that communities have ownership of the program. World Vision seeks to work with gatekeepers in communities to educate leaders on the importance of HTSP to reduce maternal mortality and infant mortality rates. Because newborns without a mother are ten times more likely to die than those whose mother’s survive.

We advocate for stronger dialogue, particularly among faith-based communities, and support for healthy timing and spacing of pregnancies for healthier mothers and children worldwide. Let’s move beyond just awareness and rethink the critical role of planning families for women to stop the orphanhood crisis this Orphan Awareness Month.

This piece originally appeared on the Patheos blog.

This week, former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle and I released a report recommending a policy of strategic health diplomacy, inspired and informed by the success of the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). The report’s publication was announced at a conference in Washington, DC, where many of the architects of PEPFAR came together to advocate for a foreign policy approach that incorporates health care and humanitarian aid. The PEPFAR program has provided access to anti-retroviral treatments to more than 7.7 million men, women, and children worldwide. It has prevented transmission of the virus to 95% of infants with infected mothers, offered care and support to millions of orphans, and trained over 140,000 new health care workers. It is by all accounts a major success. Yet it took many years for us to get to this point.

Nov. 13, 2015 | Mail & Guardian Africa

THREE years ago, at the 2012 London Summit on Family Planning, the global community committed to increasing access to contraceptives for 120 million more women and girls by 2020. The findings have been encouraging. Today, according to a new report released by Family Planning 2020 (FP2020), more women than ever before have access to contraceptives and in the past three years alone there were an additional 24.4 million women. 

This means that in the past year alone these women have averted, 80 million unintended pregnancies, 26.8 million unsafe abortions and 111,000 maternal deaths.

In an exclusive interview with Mail & Guardian Africa, almost five years from the 120 million goal post, we take stock of the progress that Africa has made with Melinda Gates,  of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation a key figure in this movement. She  holds family planning and women and girls health as one of her top priorities. 

“Family planning is vital,” said Melinda, “if women can space their births, they can then afford to feed and educate their children and to also participate in the economy. The woman will be able to lift her family out of situations of poverty because we know that they will plough their money back into the household.” 

She was encouraged by the progress made across the continent, with the most rapid acceleration in modern contraceptive prevalence rate seen in Burundi, Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, and Senegal. She explained that one of the areas of most concern though had been West Africa. A region which had, with an average of 5.5 children per woman, one of the highest fertility rates which results in many unplanned pregnancies that posed serious health risks for mothers and children.

Read the full article on Mail & Guardian.

Hope Through Healing Hands was delighted to be the title sponsor for the inaugural Why Christian? conference led by Rachel Held Evans and Nadia Bolz-Weber. This was a gathering of storytellers who talked about why they continue to follow Jesus “with all the atrocities past and present committed in God’s name, amidst all the hostile divisions ripping apart Christ’s church, in spite of all our own doubts and frustrations and fears about faith.”

Nov. 11, 2015 | Time

America’s role in the world is not up for debate

The 2016 presidential campaign is well under way, and the candidates are already jousting over who is best suited to respond to an increasing number of obstacles abroad, ranging from the refugees crisis in Europe and the Middle East, to the threat of ISIS, to Russian aggression under President Vladimir Putin. As Democrats and Republicans, the four of us will almost certainly support different candidates in November 2016. But we all agree on this: Our security and prosperity are at risk if America retreats from our leadership responsibilities around the world.

There could not be a riskier time for America to pull back. Whether it is helping counter crises like the Ebola outbreak or narco-trafficking in Latin America, engaging abroad is the smart thing to do. And we need look no further than the peril that Syrian refugee families face across the Middle East to understand that U.S. leadership is also the right thing to do. We must ensure that America leads in partnering with other nations, the private sector, and non-governmental organizations to address global challenges that can be solved by no one alone.

Read the full article on

On November 9, 2015, in Nashville, TN, Belmont University students gathered to hear panelists discuss several issues surrounding the importance of healthy timing and spacing of pregnancies for mothers worldwide. Additionally, the call to action of advocacy was proposed for the students to get involved in the mission of The Mother and Child Project.

At a time when many Americans are frustrated with government and partisan politics, we should remind them about one of the great accomplishments of a generation: an ongoing initiative launched by a Republican president, extended by a Democrat, and supported by large, bipartisan majorities in both houses of Congress. It is also saving millions of lives in the world’s poorest countries while helping make the world safer.

PEPFAR, the President’s Emergency Program for AIDS Relief, is a potential example of what we call “Strategic Health Diplomacy,” and a model for smart, effective, and bipartisan foreign policy.

The original impetus behind the creation of PEPFAR was humanitarian. By 2000, over 34 million people were living with HIV/AIDS and nearly 20 million had already been killed by the disease. “Seldom has history offered a greater opportunity to do so much for so many,” President George W. Bush remarked in proposing PEPFAR in his 2003 State of the Union address.

Congress agreed, seizing the opportunity. We headed our respective parties in the Senate at that time, and are proud of the bipartisan cooperation that led to nearly unanimous endorsement of PEPFAR.

Since then, PEPFAR has been renewed twice, with large bipartisan majorities.  As of last year, the program supported anti-retroviral treatment for 7.7 million people, mainly in Sub-Saharan Africa, and an astounding 95 percent of at-risk babies were born HIV-free. In 2013, Secretary of State John Kerry announced that the one-millionth baby had been born HIV-free because of PEPFAR-supported prevention of mother-to-child transmission. No nation in history has been responsible for a larger or more successful global health program. Yet it appears PEPFAR has accomplished much more than saving lives.

In 2000, President Bill Clinton called HIV/AIDS a “national security threat,” and, in 2002, President George W. Bush’s National Intelligence Council warned that “countries afflicted by epidemics and pandemics like HIV/AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis, growth and development will be threatened until these scourges can be contained.”

We looked into that assertion and PEPFAR’s impacts in a new Bipartisan Policy Center study. We found that threats to development, global stability, and U.S. national security were less likely to materialize in countries receiving PEPFAR assistance.

Consider these comparisons between PEPFAR countries in Sub-Saharan Africa and a set of similar non-PEPFAR regional countries:

  • Between 2004 and 2013, political instability and violence reduced by 40 percent in PEPFAR countries versus just 3 percent in non-PEPFAR countries;
  • Rule of law ratings also increased 31 percent versus just 7 percent;
  • Between 2007 and 2011, the average approval rating for the U.S. was 68 percent in countries receiving PEPFAR assistance versus a global average of 46 percent; and
  • From 1991 to 2012, there was an increase in average output per worker by a third in PEPFAR countries versus stagnant growth in non-PEPFAR countries.

It is indisputable that global health projects save lives, but we now have evidence to suggest that they can also increase U.S. national security. Healthier populations build more prosperous societies, more competent institutions, and more stable governments. Additionally, when gains in health are made possible by our government, they foster support and goodwill for the United States around the world.

This is why we call PEPFAR a potential example of “Strategic Health Diplomacy”: The idea that when Americans improve the health of people in developing nations, we not only fulfill a vital humanitarian mission, but can also make the world more secure. This is precisely the sort of smart foreign policy that President Obama called for in this year’s National Security Strategy, recognizing that “the United States is safer and stronger when fewer people face destitution.” Moreover, this is a policy that both parties should support—doing good in the world and furthering our interests simultaneously.

When choosing programs to make the most impactful investments, our study shows, we should focus on global health programs that address diseases with the highest prevalence rates; ones that have the most treatment potential; and ones ravaging countries that have strategic value to our national security.

Americans should be proud of our country’s role as the leader in improving health around the world. In addition to fighting HIV/AIDS, we have recently contributed to progress against Ebola, malaria, and cervical cancer. But these investments should only be the beginning: we need a robust strategic health diplomacy plan moving forward. The lives of the poor and sick—and possibly even our own national security—depend on it.

Tom Daschle, a co-founder of the Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC) and founder of The Daschle Group, served as Senate Democratic Leader from 2001 to 2005. Bill Frist, a cardiothoracic surgeon who co-chairs the BPC’s Health Project, served as Senate Republican Leader from 2003 to 2007.

This article appeared on U.S. News on Monday, November 9 to coincide with the release of
"The Case for Strategic Health Diplomacy: A Study of PEPFAR."

Nov. 7, 2015 | The Guardian

Sierra Leone has been declared free of Ebola by the World Health Organisation, prompting nationwide celebrations tinged with sadness over the 4,000 lives the virus claimed. Freetown was transformed into a giant carnival on Friday night as ecstatic crowds took to the streets of the capital in an outpouring of emotion.

Relief that the 17-month outbreak was all but over was reflected in candlelit prayers and spontaneous parties.

In a moving ceremony in Freetown on Saturday morning, the WHO’s country director, Anders Nordström, confirmed that 42 days had passed without any new cases, thereby satisfying criteria that the virus was no longer being transmitted. A speech by Yusuf Kamara, a healthcare worker who lost 16 members of his family and survived the disease himself, brought tears and a standing ovation. “For us, Ebola is not over. We need your help to treat the many, many health problems we still suffer from. And remember those who died at the hands of Ebola, and especially the children who have been affected by this outbreak,” he said.

Sierra Leone’s president, Ernest Bai Koroma, has ended the state of emergency declared during the outbreak, but the country will now enter a 90-day period of heightened surveillance to make sure the virus does not return. The National Ebola Response Centre (NERC) will continue to operate until the end of the year, and the swabbing of all dead bodies for Ebola will be mandatory until June 2016.

Koroma said he was “humbled by the dedication” of 35,000 Ebola response workers “whose heroism is without parallel in the history of our country”. He praised their bravery and said the country mourned their sacrifice, adding: “The disease challenged the very foundations of our humanity.” He called on the community to halt the stigmatisation of survivors and said the focus was now on improved hygiene, healthcare and economic recovery.

Liberia was declared free of Ebola on 3 September, but the region as a whole must wait until Guinea is clear of new infections for 42 days before the epidemic can be declared over. “Since Sierra Leone recorded the first Ebola case in May 2014, a total number of 8,704 people were infected and 3,589 have died, 221 of them healthcare workers, all of whom we remember on this day,” Nordström said.

The atmosphere in Freetown overnight was jubilant, but there was also nervousness about the continuing outbreak in neighbouring Guinea, where four new cases have been recorded in the past fortnight. All four are children of a mother who contracted the disease from a relative and died.

Read the full article on The Guardian.

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