I have a nursing background and started working with Health Poverty Action in 2014. I work with 27 Mother Daughter Clubs from remote and hard to reach places, and assist them to solve issues which hinder their community’s development. This includes sexual reproductive health, HIV prevention, and other activities that promote health and wellbeing.

In this newsletter you will read about Alphonsine, a resilient HIV positive mother who is combating the spread of HIV among young people in her area. I am very passionate to work with such people.

 

Grace Mukarusine, Field Officer, Rwanda

Alphonsine Mukantwali with some of the members of the Mother Daughter Club she helps to run in her community in Rwanda

In many areas of Rwanda stigma, misunderstanding and fear still surround the topic of HIV. This lack of knowledge, and the fear of seeking help or treatment, can further spread the disease. In the rural district of Nyaruguru we are working closely with the community to address this.

Women in Rwanda still suffer higher rates of HIV infection than men. This is often due to a lack of education and the continued unequal status of women in society. Our staff are working particularly closely with women and girls to help break down the taboos of discussing sexual health, and to educate women about their sexual health rights.

We are working with communities to help set up Mother Daughter Clubs to raise awareness of the importance of girls’ education, increase communication about sexual reproductive health, and carry out small income generation activities to increase independence.

Alphonsine Mukantwali is a mother who helps to run one of the 75 Mother Daughter Clubs that have been set up so far. Alphonsine is 38 years old and was born into a poor family. She dropped out of primary school at the age of 14.

“Dropping out of school was common here in our community. Schools were located far from our homes, and  I was forced to stay at home to take care of my younger sisters.”

At the age of 16 she left her home, and went to Kigali to seek work as a house girl. During her stay there, she met her husband and got married at the age of 22. He died two years later, leaving her with one child. When her husband died she returned home with her daughter, having spent all her savings on her husband’s medication. On her return she struggled to provide her young daughter with the clothes, food and medicine she needed.

“Meanwhile, I started being sick every day, and I went from weighing 70 kg to 45 kg. During my sickness, I met with one of my husband’s friends who advised me to go for an HIV test, as he knew that my husband was HIV positive.”

Alphonsine had not known her husband was HIV positive, and was shocked when she discovered she was now infected.

“After getting the result of my HIV test, I got discouraged. I lost more weight than before my HIV test results, and I started feeling like my life was going to end.”

During her struggle, community health workers trained by Health Poverty Action approached her and counselled her. They reminded her that losing hope would do more harm than the virus would, and advised her to visit the health centre to get anti-retroviral drugs. She had not visited previously as she was ashamed of being HIV positive due to the stigma in her community.

After she began to receive treatment, Alphonsine started to participate in education campaigns in the community. She began to give talks, particularly to young people, teaching them to protect themselves from the infection and spread of HIV.

Her campaign work gave her confidence, but she was still struggling financially, and soon she was unable to pay her daughters’ school fees.

To combat this we helped Alphonsine set up a Mother Daughter Club with some other mothers in the area. There are now 18 members with 17 daughters, and she feels she has gained close friends who she can trust. One of the main goals of their club is to offer sex education to their daughters. Alphonsine is in charge of this, as she knows first-hand how HIV can make you suffer physically and mentally.

“I always encourage other women in a similar situation to seek early treatment, so that even in the case of conception, innocent babies are spared the agony of contracting the deadly virus. My life was not good until I got anti-retroviral drugs. I could not get food and I faced discrimination. Now I am lucky because I found friends and other children, with whom we share everything.”

Last year the club began a business of selling beans during the long dry season that runs between July and September. The business provided the families with enough profit to feed their children throughout this period, and they now have even bigger ambitions. Their new venture is a sorghum beer making business, and although they have only just begun, they already have lots of clients.

“I am getting better. Now I can get something to eat, and I can buy clothes from the Club’s shared benefits. We are also able to help our daughters to buy school materials.”

“Now I have hope for mine and my children’s future, because we are working as a team.”

Thanks to your support, and funding from the UK government, we have been able to work with incredible women like Alphonsine. These women are tackling stigmas around sexual health head on to help their communities fight for their health rights.

The Global Movement for Health

Laos: meet Choummala

Choummala is Health Poverty Action’s Livestock Health Advisor in Laos. The work she does is tough, but her enthusiasm and dedication to the project shines through.

 

Health Poverty Action works with remote communities in Laos to provide livestock, such as goats, pigs and chickens. Choummala teaches people how to care for them, which is vital to the success of the project.

“Livestock is a good choice because it is sustainable and this allows villagers to learn skills they can use in future. The project needs to be long enough for us to be sure the villagers can successfully apply all the skills we have taught them.”

Without sustainability, projects provide short term relief, but make very little impact. We’re working with partners to train village vets, village chiefs and the District Agriculture and Forestry Office. So communities will have long term access to skilled veterinary workers after the project ends.

Choummala was interviewed by Moira Deutinger, who is blogging about the communities we work with on our website.

 

Pushing the Global Goals up the international drug policy agenda

This time last year we wrote about the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the need for drug policy reform to fully achieve these Goals. Since then we’ve been working hard to raise this issue in international conversations about the future of drug policies.

Last April we took our recommendations to the most important international meeting on drug policy in 18 years, the UN General Assembly Special Session on Drugs. We called on leaders to put the SDGs at the heart of future drug policies. The outcome of this meeting included recognition of the need to incorporate sustainable development in the global approach to drug policy.

That’s just the first step. We need to find concrete ways to make this happen, and will attend the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) – the annual UN session on Drug Policy – in March to continue to push the SDGs up the drug policy agenda.

Catch up with how we get on at the CND here.

 

Myanmar: Women on the borders

 


Whilst in China for work, our Chair of Trustees, Emma Crewe, visited some of our staff working in the remote border areas of Myanmar. She reflects on her trip.

Communities living around the Myanmar/China border have minimal access to treatment, but also lack help to address the social causes of poor health – inadequate food, drinking water, and sanitation. The people most seriously affected are women and children. We have been working with Women and Children First to strengthen women’s capacity to address such problems. Elsewhere in the world they have reduced maternal deaths in childbirth by 50%, so we want to learn from their success.

We have been getting groups of Kachin and Shan women to discuss their most urgent challenges, and how to address them. The starting point is maternal and child health, so tackling infection after childbirth is a common priority. But they also discuss other health issues, such as prevention of malaria or growing more food. Women in different communities work on their own situations, so the incredible diversity between them is recognised. This approach offers a subtle way to improve women’s rights, therefore helping to address gender inequality as well as save lives.

A secret to our success is the importance of partnership- from community level, to local and national organisations.

Events

City Chamber Choir

16 May 2017

We are delighted to invite you to City Chamber Choir’s Concert in support of Health Poverty Action.

The theme of the concert is ‘The Dance’. The evening will be complete with brass, percussion and Grainger’s ‘The Lost Lady Found’, and a wealth of shorter pieces.

Date: Tuesday 16th May 2017

Time: 7.30pm

Location: St Paul’s, Covent Garden EC2E 9ED

Ticket price: £15 (50% of ticket sales to HPA).

For more information and to buy a ticket please visit the ticketing website here.

 

 

Health Heroes

Health Heroes is an exciting new initiative that engages pupils in global justice and health rights. We lead the assembly, where possible, which introduces the children to Health Heroes working to improve the health of their communities and fight poverty.

 

Later, by donating £1 and wearing their hero mask, children will be supporting, learning about and celebrating real life Health Heroes in the communities we work alongside. If you work in a primary school, or know someone who does, get in touch with Jess.

 

Actions

Demand UK trade policies that work for health

Trade deals can have huge impacts on health. From the availability and cost of food and medicines, to access to healthcare and other public services, and polices to improve public health.

Following the UK’s vote to leave the EU, the country has to rethink its trade policies. The government can’t take formal action on new trade arrangements until the UK exits the EU. But it can take action right now on the UK’s existing trade treaties. This will set the scene for future trade deals.

The UK currently has Bilateral Investment Treaties (BITs) – a type of trade deal – with more than 100 countries. More than two-thirds of those countries are in the Global South. BITs are bad news for health and democracy. The treaties allow companies to legally challenge a wide range of government policy decisions, including those on health, environmental legislation and labour laws.

BITs have enabled big companies to sue governments for implementing polices to improve their people’s health. Pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly sued the Canadian government for $500 million for invalidating two of its patents, and Philip Morris International sued Uruguay for US$25 million regarding policies the government introduced to reduce smoking in the country. Argentina has been sued 56 times for a number of polices, including those intended to protect people’s right to water.

Health Poverty Action has been working with the Trade Justice Movement to demand trade policies that work for health. Getting our approach right for existing treaties will help to shape our future trade arrangements. Almost 100 MPs have already supported the campaigning by signing an Early Day Motion calling for greater parliamentary scrutiny of trade deals – we want more to join them!

See if your MP has signed here. If not please contact them and ask them to show their support to ensure UK trade polices work for health.