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Medical Teams Blog: Stories of boldly breaking barriers to health

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  • Hope Renewed for Community Health Worker Yasmin

    by Jenny Stoecker, Humanitarian Response Program Coordinator | Jan 10, 2018

    Bangladesh, Yasmin, 2018 (2)
    Yasmin, Community Health Worker

    Unlike the hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees who recently crossed the border, Yasmin has spent her entire life in a refugee camp in Bangladesh.

    Since the 1970s, and before the recent surge of refugees, nearly one million Rohingya fled Myanmar because of widespread persecution. Yasmin’s father was one of them.

    More than 25 years ago, to escape the violence, her father became a refugee in Nayapara, one of two government-controlled refugee camps in Bangladesh. He found work outside the camp as a farmer and fell in love with a Bengali woman. They married, built a home in the camp, and had five children.

    To better provide for his family and to pay the children’s school fees, Yasmin’s father moved to Malaysia to work as a laborer. “He wanted me to go to school and hoped that I would become a doctor,” she explained. Three years ago, when Yasmin was in 9th grade, her father died unexpectedly in Malaysia. No longer able to pay their fees, all five children were forced to drop out of school. “When he died, my hope died with him,” Yasmin said. 

    Then, in mid-November, when Medical Teams’ Community Health Worker program began in Nayapara, she jumped at the chance to join. “I want to help others with the education I do have – being a Community Health Worker allows me to do that.” 

    The Nayapara refugee camp in Bangladesh.

    Each Community Health Worker is equipped to teach members of their own community about water, sanitation, and hygiene, and to help stop disease outbreaks such as measles and diphtheria by identifying and referring patients to the nearest clinic. One of 21 health workers in Nayapara, Yasmin and her colleagues visit over 1,000 households a week. With thousands of people living in a confined space, and with limited access to proper sanitation, this program is vital to the health of the community.

    The stipend Yasmin earns as a Community Health Worker will allow her to go back to school next year. She hopes to one day become a teacher. As a Community Health Worker, she has a great start! 

    Learn more about the Rohingya refugee crisis and how you can help. You can make an impact on the lives of thousands of Rohingya refugees and help people like Yasmin bring love and lasting health to their community.

  • 18 Ways to Keep The World Healthy in 2018

    by Tyler Graf | Jan 02, 2018

    For the tired and sick, the scared and weary, those affected by conflict and poverty, the new year comes shrouded in mystery—the next 12 months are uncertain. But if we remember that hope overcomes fear, that medicine heals sickness, that knowledge empowers communities, and that faith invigorates the spirit, we know our path forward and can boldly break barriers to health in the new year. Here are the 18 ways that we will work to keep the world healthy in 2018.

    1. Vaccinations
    Since their introduction into common medicine in the early 20th Century, vaccines have saved millions of lives throughout the world. Because they prevent diseases, vaccines are both effective and cheap, cutting health care costs wherever they're used.

    The World Health Organization estimates that the measles vaccine alone has saved more than 20 million lives since 2000. Other serious diseases such as diphtheria and tuberculosis have also seen steep declines because of vaccination coverage. In today's world—where there are more refugees than ever before, millions of whom live in cramped, unhygienic conditions—vaccinations are invaluable in striking down disease outbreaks before they happen.

    Visit a refugee settlement in Northern Uganda and you may meet Denis, a Medical Teams International health worker who specializes in immunizing South Sudanese refugees. His little syringes pack a powerful punch. And in 2018, they'll continue doing their job—saving lives.

    Denis - Uganda

    2. Infant Survival Kits
    These little brown boxes may seem nondescript. But look a little closer and you'll see how important they are.

    Medical Teams International distributes Infant Survival Kits all over the world, wherever mothers need supplies to deliver their babies safely. The kits are cheap and effective, costing just $25 and ensuring that children have a safe start to life.

    Samiha - Greece

    3. Health Information Program
    Did you know that in southwest Uganda Medical Teams International has partnered with Cambia Health Solutions on a mobile app that tracks the health status of refugee patients? Developed by a joint IT team, the Health Information Program is works on Android devices and allows clinic workers to track diseases in real time, with all the information being stored in the digital cloud. No longer must health workers sift through mountains of paperwork. Using the app’s analytics, clinicians can even predict when outbreaks will happen.

    4. Syrian Refugee Outreach Volunteers
    Refugees are not helpless victims. Many were educated professionals, business owners, or students who fled violence and persecution because they had no other option. They are incredibly capable people who want nothing more than to make a difference in their new communities.

    In Lebanon, teams of trained Syrians work as Refugee Outreach Volunteers—roving health workers who make home visits to educate their neighbors, check on vulnerable people and, when necessary, refer patients to a clinic Medical Teams supports.

    Refugee Outreach Volunteers include women like Hind, a mother of two who fled Homs more than four years ago. She is dedicated to helping refugees receive health care. One of her sons is partially paralyzed from a kidney problem and needs a transplant. Hind spends her days helping older refugees who suffer from high blood pressure and diabetes.

    Hind - Lebanon

    5. Oral Rehydration Solution
    Dehydration caused by diarrheal diseases is a leading cause of death among children in developing countries. But there is a simple solution: Oral Rehydration Solution.

    This is a powerful combination of glucose, electrolytes, and sodium chloride. The solution enables a person’s intestines to efficiently absorb fluids over a more sustained period. It is the cheapest and most effective way of combating the scourge of dehydration.

    6. Emergency Nutrition
    Children in developing countries aren’t simply hungry—too many suffer from varying degrees of malnutrition, the result of not having the right types of nutritious food to eat. In the countries where Medical Teams International works, malnutrition is endemic, which is why we monitor the growth of children to make sure they’re healthy. When kids need a boost, emergency nutritional supplements are necessary.

    In Uganda, we work with the World Food Program to distribute emergency supplements to kids like Monyjok, a little boy from South Sudan. Since being on the program, he has gained weight and energy.

    Uganda, Monyjok eating, 2017
    Monyjok - Uganda

    7. Emergency Medical Services
    In the United States, we take for granted that when we call 911 an ambulance will arrive with paramedics who will provide medical care on the way to the hospital. But in Myanmar and Nepal, where Medical Teams works with Emergency Medical Services responders, this has not been the case.

    Working with local agencies in these countries, Medical Teams trains first responders on how to respond to emergencies, assess patients, and provide care on the way to hospitals.

    8. Mothers' Groups
    In developing countries, health and hygiene education is almost nonexistent, particularly in poor, rural communities. By bringing mothers together to learn about hygiene, the danger signs of certain illnesses, and what to do in the event of an emergency, you help these women gain insight into disease prevention.

    9. Psychological Treatment in Turkey
    War is traumatic—especially for children, who carry that trauma into adulthood. Psychological trauma is often called a hidden disease because the scars it leaves behind are hidden away from the untrained eye. 

    Left untreated, psychological trauma will inhibit a person's growth and long-term happiness. In Turkey, we provide psychological treatment to the survivors of the Syrian civil war.

    They’re like Aliaa, a 14-year-old Syrian girl who spent four months trying to reach Turkey with her family nearly two years ago. Once in Turkey, she became withdrawn, saddened by what she’d gone through and her life as a refugee. But after seeing a psychiatrist, he behavior improved. Now she's happy and productive.

    Aliaa - Turkey

    10. Rohingya Volunteers
    More than 620,000 ethnic Rohingya refugees from Myanmar are now living in cramped settlements in neighboring Bangladesh. Your support allows foreign and Bangladeshi doctors and nurses to train refugees to be outreach volunteers, who go door-to-door educating their friends and neighbors on health problems. They also refer sick patients to clinics and hospitals and track illnesses as they arise.

    These outreach volunteers are instrumental in preventing disease outbreaks in the settlements.

    11. Anti-Malaria Efforts
    Malaria doesn't have to be a way of life in Uganda. Through quick detection, clinic workers working in settlements dispense life-saving medicine to sick refugees every day.

    Although malaria remains a top disease in Uganda, fast treatment effectively stops it in its tracks. 

    12. Shipping Medical Supplies
    Many hospitals around the world don’t have access to basic equipment or medicine. In Guatemala, pregnant women must bring their own supplies for delivering their babies. In Syria, bombs target health facilities, decimating the infrastructure and everything that lies inside.

    Without these shipments, children would go without their asthma medicine, amputees without wheel chairs or even crutches; there’d be no gauze, sutures, or birthing beds. Serving Asia, North America, South America, Eurasia, Africa, and the Middle East, these shipments represent your long arms, capable of stretching all over the globe to hug those in need.

    13. Building Resilient Communities in Liberia
    By partnering with community leaders in Liberia to identify health problems and solutions, we help entire communities take ownership over their health. This is incredibly important in Liberia, a country that was swept up in the Ebola epidemic just three years ago.

    14. Supporting Primary Health Care Facilities
    Imagine you had no place to go if your child contracted pneumonia, or if your mother broke her leg. How anxious and alone would you feel, how worried would you be that a treatable ailment could develop into something deadly?

    Supporting Primary Health Centers remains incredibly important. In Syria, Turkey, Lebanon, and elsewhere, you can help directly serve the sick by supporting health facilities.

    15. Diarrhea Management
    Diarrhea remains one of the top childhood illnesses around the world. Often caused by tainted water or food, diarrhea can kill children who do not receive treatment.

    For Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, diarrheal diseases were such a problem that Medical Teams set up the first facility dedicated to its treatment. It serves thousands of refugees who have just recently found themselves displaced by fighting in neighboring Myanmar.


    16. Mobile Dental Clinics
    For 30 years, the Mobile Dental program has served Pacific Northwest families who either lack insurance or access to dental care. By 2018, the program has grown to become the largest volunteer-powered mobile dental program in the country.

    Without Mobile Dental, children like Mia wouldn't receive adequate and affordable care. Her family struggled to find a dentist who would see the girl before they discovered the Mobile Dental program, which was serving families in her neighborhood.

    17. Disaster Kits
    When disasters strike, home or abroad, disaster kits filled with blankets and hygiene supplies are waiting. These hygiene kits provide a respite from the cold and dirt. They provide some initial comfort to people blindsided by an unexpected catastrophe. 

    18. Volunteer Medical Professionals
    Health is a team sport, especially when it comes to aiding underserved people. Volunteers embody Medical Teams' can-do spirit, providing essential health services that heal the sick, restore the weak, and empower entire communities to improve their living conditions. Taking time off from their family and jobs, volunteers travel the world, united by a shared vision: to bring health to a hurting world.

    As we welcome 2018, we thank you for your support to make the world a healthier place.

  • 17 photos of lives transformed in 2017

    by Emily Crowe | Dec 21, 2017

    Check out 17 of our favorite images that illustrate the life-changing work that happened in 2017. From Syrian and Rohingya refugee relief to local dental care and hurricane recovery, supporters like you have brought healing around the world.

  • In this time of Advent, remembering that Jesus was a refugee

    by Roger Sandberg, vice president of International Field Operations | Dec 21, 2017

    Roger and refugees in Lebanon, 2015
    Roger Sandberg, vice president of International Field Operations, in Lebanon with Syrian refugees Kareena, left, and her sister Afaf.

    After hearing our team in Turkey earlier this month share some of the Christmas traditions celebrated in both Turkey and Syria, my encouragement to all of us stateside is to take time to remember the context of why we celebrate Christmas.

    The story of Christ’s birth conjures striking similarities between that time and today. When we think about our calling at Medical Teams International – to boldly break barriers to health and restore wholeness in a hurting world – it’s humbling to think that it’s our responsibility and privilege to help people who have nowhere else to turn.

    So, in this time of Advent, let’s not forget that Jesus was a refugee.

    Just think about the story: It starts with a 14-year-old girl, Mary, who’s pregnant. At Medical Teams International, we seek out those who are deeply vulnerable, and they tend to be women and children – people like Mary and her unborn baby. Meanwhile, there’s an occupying force in Israel, the Romans, who are requiring what we would call today “internal displacement.”

    Because of these circumstances, Mary had no safe place to give birth. Ideally, we’d want her to do that in a hospital, someplace safe that supports displaced people. But again, we know the story – there’s no room at the inn. She ends up giving birth in an unhygienic manger, a place where animals are born. That is a tremendous risk to both mother and child.

    Shortly after the birth, there’s an act of genocide, a declaration that all newborn males are to be killed. Joseph and Mary flee to Egypt with their newborn baby, Jesus. They cross an international border, and in the process become refugees.

    Now look at what’s happening in the Middle East, in places where Medical Teams International works: We’re serving refugees – women, children, and fathers – who, because they fear losing their lives, have left their homes. 

    And literally, there’s no room at the inn.

    I think about a young woman I met in Lebanon named Kareena. She is a Syrian refugee, slightly older than Mary and a very promising woman who was studying computer science. Her family fled Syria when the children were no longer safe. Now, Kareena picks potatoes in the mud for just over a dollar a day.

    MTI- Zahle, Lebanon - November 23, 2015 (35)
    Kareena is a young Syrian woman who gave up her education to travel to Lebanon with her family. Now, she picks potatoes in a field for $1 a day.

    She hopes that she might be able to return to Syria when the conflict ends. But she also acknowledges that it doesn’t appear to be ending anytime soon. Though she’s lost years of opportunity, she’s thankful that her family is safe.

    Refugees are setting up tents in makeshift camps where there aren’t enough hospitals or clinics nearby to help them. Which is why we show up – it’s our calling. As we prepare for Christmas, the challenge I set forth is this: Let’s celebrate and feast well. Let’s enjoy friends and family. But let’s make sure there’s room in our hearts for Christ, room in our hearts for refugees.

    Let’s understand that what we celebrate from 2,000 years ago is still very much alive and taking place today. It should be both an honor and a profoundly humbling challenge for Medical Teams International to say, “This is what we do.” We find people like Mary and restore wholeness and health in a hurting world.

  • Syria: Out of Rubble Comes Resilience

    by Tyler Graf | Dec 13, 2017

    A Medical Teams International-supported health center in Syria, immediately after an airstrike. 

    A plane flying overhead was a sign something wasn’t right in the northern Syrian city of Atarib. The sound of an airplane means only one thing – bombs are on the way.

    When the manager of the local health center, Dr. Hassan, heard the plane circling above, he ordered his staff and patients to evacuate immediately. They did. With everybody out of the hospital, seeking safety and refuge elsewhere, the strike began at 3:10 p.m. sharp on Nov. 13.

    Explosions rocked the central market, near the health center. Though the building didn't take a direct hit, the bombs caused extensive damage, toppling walls and caving in parts of the roof. Bombs tore through the drug warehouse, waiting halls and examination rooms, leaving behind plumes of dust and rubble.   

    Omar, a staff member at the hospital who lives near the market, said the attack was unrelenting.

    “I felt as if there was an earthquake, then I heard one huge explosion followed by several smaller ones,” Omar said.

    Medical Teams International supports the health center by paying staff salaries. It's one of several Syrian health centers that Medical Teams supports, in partnership with the International Blue Crescent Relief and Development Foundation. These efforts keep critical health facilities like the one in Atarib open and staffed, despite the ongoing civil war that has decimated Syria's health system.

    Fortunately, none of the hospital’s staff members were injured. Others in the city -- located in besieged Aleppo, home to some of the fiercest fighting in Syria -- weren’t so lucky. The airstrikes killed 85 people, including many children. Others were left injured and trapped amid the ruins, with the closest health facility now smoldering.

    PHC photo 2
    The health center's drug warehouse was completely destroyed by the blast. Medical staff were able to salvage some of the medicine that was in the warehouse after it was hit.

    Health center staff rushed to reach the injured at the market, but wreckage from toppled buildings impeded roadways, making it impossible for cars to pass. On foot, health center staff scrambled over the debris. When they found people, staff would carry them back over the bricks and rebar to the nearest vehicles and transport them to the remaining functioning hospital. 

    Shortly after the attack, Dr. Hassan ventured back to the health center. He wanted to assess the scene. All he saw was desolation.

    “I couldn’t open the doors because of the rubble," he said. "The backyard of the (health center) was totally destroyed. The health center was out of service."

    Resilience: The Power of Life

    The next day, as staff members surveyed what was left of the health center, there was a collective sense of loss. They shared feelings of shock and despair, pain and depression. But they also felt something else: courage and strength. 

    They had to reopen the health center. So, with their bare hands, they cleared the rubble and salvaged as much medicine as they could. In the face of loss, they were called to act.

    Less than three days after the attack, they reopened the health center, using the four rooms that were spared during the attack. This dedication yielded immediate results, as the health center's doctors saw 365 people that week. 

    “After I saw the courage of the team and the urgent need for medical services, I decided to re-open the facility," Dr. Hassan said.

    The needs in Atarib remain high. One midwife explained that there's "no water for drinking or cleaning."

    “Our neighbors provided us with cleaning tools and water," the midwife continued. "The health center was in a big mess."

    Since the November bombing, reconstruction efforts have moved forward in earnest. Through it all, the health center hasn't missed a work day, serving more than 4,230 patients. 

    Sometimes, the darkest hours shed light on what's most important in life. Even the most challenging times offer glimmers of hope. These are the times when people rise above and demonstrate how responding selflessly is the ultimate act of love.

    As Medical Teams continues to support health centers in war-torn Syria and refugees in neighboring countries, remember that you are an important part of this team. You, too, are responding where needed most. Whether it's through your prayers, donations or volunteering, you are supporting efforts that are making a difference in the lives of deeply vulnerable people around the world.

    One person injured in the strike, who relies on the health center for care, had a message for everyone.

    “I keep coming to the health center to dress my wound," she said. "This team is so professional. God bless them!”