*I’m in Rwanda this week representing Hope Through Healing Hands with Dr. Paul Farmer, Partners in Health Rwanda, and Harvard Medical School. These dispatches from the road are my personal journal–recording what I’ve seen and learned on this trip. See my pre-trip thoughts, and Monday’s blog

Who says you can’t treat patients suffering from cancer in the poorest, most rural parts of the world?

I’m writing on my iPhone on a bumpy dirt road that I am told will be paved next year. It winds for two hours through gorgeous green mountains sculpted with terraced plots of land and scattered homes stepped up and down the hillside.

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But 30 minutes ago I was on a mountain top in a cancer ward listening to the heart sounds of a 6-year-old boy with leukemia and examining the slowly disappearing lumps on the chest of a 20 year old man with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma—both being treated with state of the art intravenous chemotherapy.

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Butaro Hospital, based in Burera District, Northern Province, is a PIH-supported facility and home to the Cancer Center of Excellence, a cancer-referral site for all of Rwanda. The cancer ward was opened up in this rural district hospital two years ago. As we toured the wards, we saw children with leukemia, women with breast cancer and men with bowel cancer.

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Paul Farmer introduced to the world the fact that HIV treatment does not have to be expensive and that it can be successfully treated in the poorest parts of the world. No one believed him at first. But he proved them all wrong.

Now he is doing the same for cancer diagnosis and treatment. If it can be pulled off in rural, mountainous, and hard-to-reach Burera, it can be done anywhere.

One third of the patients come from the local district, a third come from outside the district, and a third from around the country and even neighboring countries.

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The hospital has only the essentials: a simple plain film x-ray machine, one ultrasound machine, and basic blood chemistries but nothing like blood cultures. There are no pathologists there—photographs or iPhone pictures can be sent to partner hospitals in Boston, Brigham and Women’s and Dana Farber Cancer Center, when needed.

But the staff is Rwandan and they have been trained in concert with Partners who place a heavy emphasis on fact-based science, research, and clinical training with certification. Pride among the staff bursts forth. People are living and have hope where they were dying in despair.

It’s truly an amazing thing to see.

Kigali, Rwanda

Why are we in Rwanda? What makes it a unique place to learn about health policy, and health care delivery? What will we learn that can make us smarter as we address health issues back at home?

I thought through these questions on the flight to Rwanda, and I had plenty of time. It’s been a long series of flights—Aspen to Denver to Chicago to New York to Amsterdam to Kigali. But the real journey began today as we saw our first health facilities.

Today (Monday), the delegation piled into a Land Rover after breakfast for the 2.5 hour drive to our first stop: the Partners in Health (PIH) headquarters at Rwinkwavu. We toured the Rwinkwavu District Hospital & Health Center, which was funded in part by the Rwandan government, PIH, and Bill & Melinda Gates.

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Formally, I’m here as the Chairman of Hope Through Healing Hands, the global health nonprofit I founded. Having been both a surgeon and a public servant, I am convinced that health and medicine are the best currency for peace and healing worldwide. I started Hope Through Healing Hands to put that belief into action.

It’s a vision that is shared by Dr. Paul Farmer, PIH’s founder and director. Paul has been a friend and like-minded champion for global health for years. He has always had the vision to see things that others could not, the audacity to dream big, and the commitment, dedication, hard work to make his visions–whether a nursing school, hospital, outpatient clinic, or even an entire medical school–a reality. It’s an honor to tour Rwanda with him, and see the progress being made.

When I was last in Rwanda, in the summer of 2008, I was impressed to see how diligently international funds were used (in that case, PEPFAR funding focused on HIV, malaria, and tuberculosis care and prevention). I said then, I wish all Americans could join our delegation to see how wisely their contributions have been spent, and with accountability.

I have seen the same today in the Rwinkwavu District Hospital.

When Rwinkwavu District Hospital first opened, Paul planted several trees there on the property. Standing in their shade today, they are a visual reminder of the growth and progress that PIH—and Rwanda as a whole—has made.

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With Paul Farmer under the trees he planted.

The district hospital is in Southern Kayonza District, one of three that PIH serves. The 110-bed Rwinkwavu District Hospital and its eight health centers are in remote, rural area, and yet it is delivering care to the poor with both compassion and excellent science.

The highlight of my day was meeting the young researchers at Rwinkwavu who were learning how to conduct sophisticated clinical studies that are and will continue to be published in peer-reviewed journals. They are pushing medicine forward not only in their hospital, but globally as well!

Increasingly the hospitals in Rwanda are seeing surgical disease including cancer. For so many years, the African continent has concentrated on infectious diseases. Now that most of those are under control, the most dramatic emergence is of chronic disease of the heart and lung. In addition, there is a huge need for trauma treatment centers, which are generally nonexistent.

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After our hospital tour, we visited the PIH Women and Girl’s Initiative, a wonderful artisanal cooperative that had been started specifically for teenage girls, ages 12 to 18, an age group that has been neglected a bit in Rwandan society. The 20 young women that we met had dropped out of school for various reasons, but had banded together to start a cooperative and learn about small business. They manufacture purses, robes, aprons, gloves that are truly magnificent.

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While the medicine being done compels the surgeon in me, from a global health perspective, the most exciting thing about PIH’s work in Rwanda is that it truly is being taken up by the Rwandan people.

Initially, PIH was a health care provider in these hospitals and health centers. But increasingly, PIH has transitioned into more of an advisory role. PIH now supports the Rwandan government in providing services to more than 865,000 people at Rwinkwavu District Hospital and two other hospitals and 41 health centers, with the help of 4,500 community health workers.

At dinner I had the opportunity to sit beside Dr. Agnes Binagwaho, Rwanda’s Minister of Health. Dr. Binagwaho and I have met several times on my previous trips. She’s been championing public health in Africa since 1994. Tonight she, I, and David Vreeland, discussed the role of information technology in healthcare and the transformation it promises. Rwanda has made outstanding progress implementing health IT to support clinical decision making–a challenge we struggle with in the US as well.

This is the power of global health diplomacy—empowering a community to achieve health, healing, and peace, and seeing incredible gains for the entire global community.

Tomorrow we head North to another province, another hospital, and a cancer center of excellence. I’m excited to see what we learn there.

I was in Aspen earlier this week working on some of the challenges facing healthcare and the health industry in the US, but it’s time to switch gears.

From my 2008 trip to Rwanda with the ONE Campaign

Sunday, I leave for Rwanda to lead a one week group trip with my friend Dr. Paul Farmer to see some of the work being done byPartners in Health (PIH) in the country. I haven’t been in countrysince 2008, and I’m anxious to see the progress PIH and other groups are making in health.

Since the spring of 2005, Paul’s PIH organization has been in Rwanda working closely with the government and the Ministry of Health to reach the rural, underserved areas of the country. PIH began by focusing on HIV/AIDS work, but has now expanded to full healthcare offerings. Today, over 800,000 people are served by PIH’s 40 health facilities.

But the health challenges in Rwanda are still vast! Next week with PIH we’ll be considering many aspects of health in Rwanda, but one in particular that I’ll be looking at while I’m there is nutrition.

I firmly believe–and have seen firsthand!–that global health diplomacy works as a real and powerful currency of peace worldwide. And a healthy start to life–a mother enjoying a safe and healthy pregnancy leading to a safe birth and healthy infancy–is crucial to building a foundation that leads to stable communities and global peace.

Food insecurity and malnutrition account for more than half of the deaths of children under 5 in developing countries, and Rwanda has had its fare share of nutrition challenges. In 2005, 18% of children in the country were underweight.

But Rwanda’s government has made real progress in child nutrition since 2009. That year, a Presidential Initiative launched to address malnutrition. The country also joined forces with the US in the Feed the Future initiative.

A 2010 health survey showed that chronic malnutrition and stunting affect 44% of children under the age of 5 in Rwanda.

In September of last year, the Right Honorable Prime Minister, Dr. Pierre Damien Habumuremyi launched a 1,000 Days Campaign, focusing on food availability and a balanced diet for pregnant women through the first two years of life of their babies.

The first 1,000 days may seem like such a small window of opportunity for global change, but the data are clear that childhood undernutrition has long-lasting consequences.

WHO models estimate that over half of adults in the prime working age group–20-29 year olds in Rwanda–have been affected by childhood stunting. Many of these adults wear the visible badges of malnutrition: shorter height or lessened muscular development. And for just as many, malnutrition has exacted a mental toll as well, diminishing the cognitive function of the working age population.

Along with the rest of what we’ll see–including a bit of gorilla trekking and possibly gorilla surgery–I’m anxious to see what progress Rwanda’s 1,000 Days Campaign has made, and the returns realized on nutrition investment.

I’ll be sure to keep you updated.

Motherhood is a dangerous journey to take in most of the world. Nearly 300,000 women die each year from complications due to pregnancy, and 99 percent of those women are in the developing world. In Malawi, an estimated 510 out of 100,000 women will die giving birth. But Chief Kwataine, a former English teacher, has become well-known in the country for his work developing safe motherhood activities for nearly the last twenty years.

Watch this short, two-minute video to learn more about how women's (and children's) lives are being saved in Malawi. It's well worth your time.


“If you don’t practice family planning, you will have a child on your back, in your belly, on your shoulders and in a baby basket on your head.” Malawi nurse Mercy Chikhosi Nyirongo describing the song and dance from a women’s health meeting in Madisi, Malawi 2013.

Behavior change communications take many forms throughout a lifetime . . . from the parent who scolds a child for doing something harmful, to government warning labels about health hazards. Somewhere in between are the messages from this video that rise up from women simply wanting to build healthy families by practicing family planning. With one in 39 women on the continent of Africa dying from pregnancy complications, it is easy to understand this group putting family planning at the top of their health priorities.

The channels through which these messages travel are increasing through the use of technology. Mobile phones, now accessible in over 90% of the world, provide a means for health education by caregivers who put messages into local language and context. The Reverend Betty Kazadi Musau, United Methodist clergy in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, utilizes a system that does not require Internet to reach her community. The results for sending text message cholera alerts is witnessed immediately:

“People are changing their behavior. They start boiling water to drink instead of taking unclean water from the river. They drink clean water. I think this is a life transformation!” [Listen to full interview]

Mercy Neely HicksUnited Methodist Communications provides best practices in the use of technology for wellbeing by working with global communicators and leading technologists. You are invited to attend the upcoming Game Changers Summit in Nashville, Tennessee which will demonstrate the link between technology and health, and help participants put a plan into action for the messages that matter to them the most.

The right messages reaching people at the right time can save lives and build a world where all – from mother to infant – can thrive.

For more information, contact Rev. Neelley Hicks at [email protected].

Download a free copy of Using Technology for Social Good

First off, an update on the two abandoned babies: they were not there when I went to work after my three days off. I was told that the girl (who was very cute and term) had been adopted, while the boy (who was a premi, but seemed very healthy—though of course small—to me) had died.

Working at HIC has certainly taught me a great many things, none more so than how to multi-task. I’ve gotten used to—though certainly haven’t mastered—watching the perineum’s of two women who are pushing wondering who will give birth first and if I’ll have adequate time to change gloves to catch the second ones baby, to do the admission paperwork while making sure that a resuscitated baby is still breathing appropriately, and to triage patients while checking frequently for the presence of the baby’s head of a woman squatting and pushing on the floor. I’m forever impressed at what the nursing staff (as they are the main staff that run the maternity) do every day. As I say I’ve gotten used to this type of work environment, but it still stresses me out and makes me anxious. They however, are so used to it and so good at balancing multiple patients at once, that I don’t think they even notice it at this point. I think it’ll be a bit of a transition to go back to the U.S. and for each patient to have her own room (instead of an open room with three tables) and to have to certainly still have to multitask, but in a very different way.

This week I had the pleasure of visiting the Maison de Naissance (MN), a birthing type center about 30 minutes from Cayes. MN is located in a tiny town pretty far off the main road and provides much needed services to the women in the area (many of whom would never come all the way to Cayes to give birth and so would just give birth alone, or with a traditional birth attendant). MN had 7 post-partum beds, a two-bed birthing room, provides prenatal consultation serves, and birth control services (among other services). It was really nice to be able to visit MN and see a different type of birthing environment. Because MN is smaller than HIC, it was much calmer than the maternity ward I’m now used to—though I was told I visited on a very calm day. It was wonderful to see what good care the midwives were able to offer the laboring women and those who came for prenatal consultations.  High quality clinics like MN are invaluable—in my opinion—to Haiti as they provide skilled birth attendants and health care services to women in rural areas who wouldn’t typically make the journey to the nearest hospital, but nonetheless need/deserve such healthcare. 

 

The Hill

by Senator Bill Frist, MD

The United States has shown courageous leadership over the last decade on global health. Earlier this year, Congress once again voted to protect the budget for those critical investments that we make to save lives, prevent the transmission of diseases and end preventable child deaths.  During my time in Congress, we fought hard for life-saving global health programs.  We were able to work together with both Democrat and Republican presidents to launch and implement historic health initiatives in priority areas such as HIV/AIDS, malaria, vaccines, and clean water.  These programs have saved millions of lives, and proven that health is the best currency for peace.

But even as funding for global health soared, foundational programs promoting maternal and child nutrition were largely overlooked.  Yet the need for greater leadership and investments in nutrition could not be more clear.  Across the world today, 162 million children—1 in 4 children under 5 years of age—are physically and developmentally stunted, and 80 percent of those live in just 14 countries.  The combination of physical limitations and reduced cognitive development directly linked to poor nutrition sentences these children to lives of unfulfilled potential, and it creates a severe drain on their communities and countries.  A 2013 report from the UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) estimates that the social and economic costs of malnutrition are unconscionably high, amounting to as much as $US3.5 trillion per year or $US500 per person globally.

Thanks to U.S. leadership on global health, child death rates have been cut in half over the last 20 years from 12 million to 6 million per year. With continued investments and unwavering leadership, child death rates could be cut in half again over the next decade. We must not save these children, only to abandon them in their most crucial developmental years.

Providing the right nutrients is fundamental to health, particularly during the first 1,000 days from a woman’s pregnancy to her child’s second birthday.  In the 2012 Copenhagen Consensus report, an expert panel of economists concluded that every $1 invested in nutrition generates as much as $138 in better health and increased productivity. Yet despite the severe costs associated with malnutrition and the extraordinary returns on nutrition investments, the world spends less than 1 percent of development aid on life saving, basic nutrition solutions.

The tide is turning. In the 2014 budget, Congress provided a funding boost to the global nutrition account, signaling strong bipartisan support to combat malnutrition.  President Obama has committed to developing a global nutrition strategy, and USAID Administrator Dr. Raj Shah, who has taken the lead on this initiative, just announced the completion of that strategy and the effort underway to develop a coordination plan across all agencies and programs that contribute to improved nutritional outcomes.   

Moreover, in June 2013 at the Nutrition for Growth event in London, the U.S. joined other world leaders and signed a global agreement that will boost global prosperity, prevent millions of infant deaths, and unlock greater human potential by working in partnership with developing countries to tackle malnutrition. This commitment is reflected in the Global Nutrition for Growth Compact, which has been endorsed by over 90 stakeholders.

Governments from Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) countries and their development partners are also taking nutrition seriously. A total of 50 countries have joined the SUN movement to date, committing to driving forward their national nutrition plans at scale.

These plans and commitments are encouraging, but we must sustain and build upon the momentum that has been created over the last year on global nutrition. The president and Congress must remain resolute in their support for strong global health and nutrition funding in the FY15 budget and in prioritizing nutrition as a critical pillar in our foreign assistance investments.  They must work together to oversee the implementation of the new strategy, and to provide the increased resources that are necessary to reach the millions of children who continue to suffer needlessly from poor nutrition.

Investments in maternal and child nutrition build the foundation for the next generation to survive and thrive, and serve as a shining example of U.S. global leadership at its best.  

Frist, an acclaimed heart transplant surgeon, served Tennessee in the U.S. Senate from 1995 to 2007. He was Senate Majority Leader from 2003 to 2007. He is chairman of Hope Through Healing Hands and Tennessee SCORE, a professor of surgery and author of six books. Learn more about his work at BillFrist.com.

NATO soldier

Hope Through Healing Hand's mission is to promote health worldwide as a currency for peace. This Memorial Day, we'd like to say a huge thank you to all of our armed service men and women who have given sacrificially to protect our freedom and to promote peace around the globe. You are heroes in our eyes, and we thank you for your service.

Image from Nato.org

Every Newborn Campaign

Articles and Videos You Don't Want to Miss

May 21 2014

This week has been the launch of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation's #EveryNewborn campaign, and we've seen great coverage on social media and around the web on this important issue. Here are some of our top links for you to see, in case you missed them:

Melinda Gates's speech to the World Health Organization on May 20, 2014.

Who Has Been Caring for the Baby? by Dr. Gary Darmstadt, senior fellow for Global Development at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Saving 3 million Babies Is Easier Than You Think, from TIME's Jeffrey Kluger

 

May Newsletter

May 15 2014

Happy Mother's Day!

Her.meneutics article: "Family Planning Through A Global Lens," by Jenny Eaton Dyer, Ph.D.

Christianity Today's Her.meneutics features articles that are at the interface of women's issues and cultural issues. We were proud to have the opportunity to publish an article this week discussing the importance of access to contraception and information about a variety of family planning methods, including fertility awareness, in the developing world. These are life-saving, life-changing tools for women and families. 

In a season when contraception is debated and discussed in our own nation, it is important to consider how contraception is a pro-life cause worldwide.

U.S. Moms Support Healthy Mothers and Children Worldwide this Mother's Day

This week, Hope Through Healing Hands launched a press release citing notable faith leaders, influentials, and parents who have taken a stand to promote awareness and advocacy for maternal, newborn, and child health. 

Amy Grant, Grammy-winning Artist, notes: “Those of us who have experienced healthy pregnancies here in the U.S. need to remember how uniquely fortunate we are. For the most part, we get to choose when and how we give birth, and we have all the health care we need before, during, and after delivery. In other parts of the world, the reality is tragically different. It is estimated that 1 in 39 pregnant women in Africa died in childbirth in 2013.”

We are excited to share all the leaders who have generously offered their endorsements to the coalition. We invite you to take a moment to read about why they are speaking up for women in the developing world.

Speaking Engagements: Why Family Planning is Critical in the Developing World

Over the course of the past month, Executive Director Jenny Dyer, Ph.D. had the opportunity to speak at the Center for Strategic and International Studies on "Ethiopia's Investments in Family Planning: Lessons for U.S. Policy" along with other experts. Dyer spoke on the interface of faith and health pertaining to healthy timing and spacing of pregnancies in the developing world and its role in awareness and education both in Ethiopia as well as the United States.

We invite you to learn more about her trip to Ethiopia as well as the event. Please see the "Family Planning and Linkages with U.S. Health and Development Goals" policy paper as well as the video showcasing the amazing work done there in family planning.

Dyer also spoke at ETSU's College of Public Health on "Saving Mother and Child: Why Planning Families is Critical in Developing Nations." She offered a lecture to students and faculty that can be viewed here.

We wish everyone a Happy Mother's Day,

Bill Frist Signature

Bill Frist, MD

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