Category Archives: Health

To Mother Africa

Every year it’s the same routine; I make sure I send her flowers followed by a good phone call or Skype conversation, and then calling it a day. Yep, that is my Mother’s Day ritual to show my mom my appreciation, but is that enough? This year I want to do something different! Something that will not only show my mother I care, but also allow me to support other mothers and children of the African diaspora.

For most of you who don’t know me, I was born in Eritrea in the mid 1980’s. A place where it was difficult to raise a family without fearing if tomorrow was granted.A time were my father had to spend time in prison, while my strong mother had to raise six kids with me on the way. With the help of my grandma, my mother was able to work to provide an income while visiting my father in prison to make sure he was okay.

For my parents it was a hard time and they knew change fast change had to be made. My parents along with my siblings and I decided to leave their old family and friends to a place where they could give us an opportunity to grow up in a safer environment. Allowing us to get a proper education and grabbing life by the horns so we could become whatever we desired to be. Like most parents, mine wanted me to be better then them so I wouldn’t have to struggle that hard.

Growing up hearing these stories made me realize how different life could have been, and how blessed I am. I also feel it is my responsibility to give back and help out. This year I plan on donating and volunteering my time to unique orginzation’s surrounding their focus on Mother’s and their child’s. Here are my top three picks along with more information, enjoy!

* Mother 2 Mother – Who would have known that a single dose of medication to a mother during labor, and a dose to her infant shortly after birth – can cut transmission rates nearly in half? Mothers2mothers employs and trains mothers living with HIV to prevent new HIV infections among infants and keep their mothers alive. These “Mentor Mothers” work alongside doctors and nurses to bring critical information and support to pregnant women and new mothers with HIV. Read More…

* Mothers of Africa – “In Africa a woman’s risk of dying from treatable or preventable complications of pregnancy and childbirth over the course of her lifetime is 1 in 22, compared to 1 in 7,300 in developed regions.” Mothers of Africa is a Medical Educational Charity that trains medical staff in Sub-Sahara Africa to care for mothers during pregnancy and childbirth. Read More…

*Child Soldiers International– CSI works to prevent the recruitment and use of children as soldiers, to secure their demobilization and to ensure their rehabilitation and reintegration.

“I would like you to give a message. Please do your best to tell the world what is happening to us, the children. So that other children don’t have to pass through this violence.”

‘The 15-year-old girl who ended an interview to Amnesty International with this plea was forcibly abducted at night from her home by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), an armed opposition movement fighting the Ugandan Government.’

I hope this blog inspires you to help a mother or child in need. Marion Garretty put it best when she said “A Mother’s love is the fuel that enables a normal human being to do the impossible.”


Looking at the Pan-African Experience From a Different View

My documentary pick of the week is The Pan- African Experience. Director of Morehouse Leadership Center, Dr. Walter Earl Fluker and his team took six seniors Morehouse students on a service learning mission to look at the relationship between poverty and HIV/AIDs within Africa. A renaissance man with a social conscience is the theme Dr. Fluker tries to implement into the trip by taking the group of young men to different communities and come out with strategies they can take back to the states and gain a deeper understanding of the issue. The mission starts in Twsane, South Africa where the men went to an orphanage of kids with HIV/AIDS whom  parents have banded at young age.
Everyday these men visit different communities and events varying from clinics, radio shows to Nelson Mandela’s cell and NGOs. What stuck out to me the most while watching this film was a comment Founder/Director of Tebogo Trust, Jose Bright said:
“I think it is critical that our children see people that look like them but sound differently and are part of a diaspora of Africans. I also find that it is re-informing when we interact with young people from Morehouse and other parts of the world from other organizations, that our children are not becoming xenophobic when they interact with other people of color. The content is going through dramatic change, if you look at the democracies that have came into the African content over the last 10-15 years, we’ve seen new democracies come in and we’ve seen lost of culture to a certain degree and our children are starting to assimilate to a western pyridine. We find it very critical for our children to never lose contact with their identity, culture, and language. And also cope in a modern changing inviorment like this.”
Another reason for the Pan-African Experience is learn the role(s)  the African Diaspora plays in creating a better world. Dr. Fluker talks about ‘The American Dilemma’  an Ideological staple of African American existence of who ‘we’ are since the arrival into America. Dr. Fluker also speaks about how African Americans within the diaspora move beyond the struggle and not just look at what it means to be an African American, but how to be a better human. One way a person can do this is by visiting Africa to ask deep rooted questions and figuring out what constitutes good humanity. Now I’m ready to hop on a plane and visit South Africa!
Here is a link to documentary  The Pan-African Experience  


Hopes for an AIDS-Free Generation

When the first AIDS case hit in the summer of 1981, doctors were stunned and weren’t able to asset their patients as much. Fast forward to today, due to global collaboration and investments more then 6 million HIV-infected people in developing nations are receiving lifesaving treatment. Although AIDS has been one of the greatest global fights in history, the international community have been making huge improvements towards enhancing the lives of individuals living with HIV/AIDS in developing nations.

Today, artist Alicia Keys and Bono join forces to come to Washington, DC to give thanks to the United States on World AIDS Day. Since 2002, Bono along with the ONE advocacy group are determined to have an AIDS-free generation by 2015. According to VERTEXNews/Newsroom Solutions,

“Bono writes an op-ed piece in ‘The New York Times’ that millions of people owe their lives to U.S. aid that has made life-saving medicine available to people with HIV.”

During an interview with ABC News this morning Bono stated “the United States has performed the greatest act of heroism since it jumped into World War Two, and in 2002, only about 50-thousand people in sub-Saharan Africa had access to HIV or AIDS treatment when over three million people in those countries were newly infected with HIV.”

This is were I start asking the questions, how can we have an AIDS-free generation when funds are being cut? According to  HIV and AIDS Programme, Dr Vicci Tallis

“The recent announcement from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria that it does not have enough money to finalise Round 10 grants or to open Round 11 is simply devastating and has immense implications for southern Africa, In short, it demonstrates ZERO commitment from developed nations to HIV and AIDS, to Africa, to women,to marginalised communities, to people living in poverty.”

Tallis also points out the epidemic of AIDS is one that everyone needs to take responsibility for including government, civil society, and the Global Fund. I don’t think it’s the Global Fund or the United States ‘responsibility’ to help fund the fight against AIDS. However, it should be a ‘willingness’ to help mankind, especially those who can’t help themselves.

A Thin Line Between Death and Birth

Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, is composed of more than 250 ethnic groups and  has one of the highest child mortality rates. I just got done watching The Edge of Joy, a documentary that takes a look at the maternal deaths in Nigeria, and I want to share this moving documentary.

“The Edge of Joy follows doctors, midwives, nurses, and public health educators as they fight maternal death on every front, from preemptive family planning education to expanded blood transfusion services.”

Here is the link  The Edge of Joy – Let me know what you think.

The Last Cut

Okay ladies, be prepared to cross your legs &  clench those muscles because no matter how you look at it, there is no way I can sugar-coat ‘Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting.’

In 2010, I went to Ethiopia to write, film, and produce a documentary addressing the perceptions of female genital mutilation as my thesis project. I also had a chance to partner up with international and local non-government orginzation (NGOs) on their grassroots initiatives which focused on  harmful traditional practices. As I stated before, my journey to Ethiopia reinforced in me an intense realization that there is urgent work to be done.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C) is practiced in 28 countries across sub-Saharan Africa from Sudan and Somalia in the east, to most of the countries in West Africa. It is also concentrated along the Nile valley from Egypt in the north to Eritrea, Ethiopia, Uganda and Kenya in the south.

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines female genital mutilation/cutting as comprising “all procedures involving partial or total removal of the female external genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs whether for cultural or other non-therapeutic reasons.”

During my time in Ethiopia, I learned that the procedures of FGM/C varies, depending on the type of FGM/C, the age of the girl, and the experiences of the person who is doing the circumcision, who I found to be in many cases an old woman. When I interviewed a local Awasa woman who practiced FGM/C on girls for over 40 years she explained:

“After I am done cutting the girl, I often try to pour egg yold or alcohol to stop the bleeding so that the healing can start. I tune-out the cries and screams that always happen when I am cutting the girl because for me, I cut girls to make an income for my family. “

Although I can sit here and go over more graphic details of my varies interviews and the different types of FGM/C, I  want to discus the purpose of the practice and bring attention that FGM still occurs in African countries.

The Concord Times  posted an article yesterday discussing campaign strategies in Sierra Leone linking to FGM.

According to sources, some politicians are presently expending huge resources to promote Female Genital Mutilation FGM in different parts of the country as a campaign strategy to win the hearts of electorates ahead of the upcoming 2012 Presidential and Parliamentary Elections.

Whilst doing this, these politicians spread hate messages against anti-FGM activists. They work in close collaboration with people in the society who support the practice of FGM to harass and intimidate those who talk ill about the society.

Even though these unfortunate events are still happening, it’s important that we pass the knowledge we learn and educate one another. Other then curiosity, what brought my attention and research on FGM/C was the Orchid Project, an NGO that focuses on ending FGM/C; and EGLDAM, a local Addis Ababa NGO decided to educating and ending FGM/C within Ethiopia.

From  my research and trip I learned other harmful traditional practices that were happening throughout Africa including: early marriage and dowry; nutritional taboos and practices related to child delivery; breast ironing; and son preference and tradition.  These are more topics and discussions I plan to cover in the near future.

Saving The Lives Of Women And Child

According to Amnesty International, every 90 seconds a woman dies from complications of childbirth. In a efforts to help fight this issue in developing countries, October 17 was set aside as the global Maternal Health Day.

Today I want to share this clip I came across about a woman named Jessica Langton and her creative video/idea to save the lives of women and children in third world countries.

For more information on the 2015 Millennium Development goals go to

My Interview with Joyce Banda

Engaging Local Leaders to Save the Lives of Mothers

Trevor Ballantyne and Rahwa Maharena

30 September 2011

Joyce Banda Malawi's first female vice president                                    Joyce Banda                               Rahwa Meharena/allAfrica

Joyce Banda is Malawi’s first female vice president. Before taking office in 2009, Banda served as a member of parliament, minister of Gender, Child Welfare and Community Services, and minister of Foreign Affairs under President Binguwa Mutharika.

At the age of 25, Banda and her three children were living with her abusive husband in Nairobi, Kenya. A growing women’s movement sparked Banda’s rebellious spirit in 1975. She walked out with her children and started garment-manufacturing business. Her success and a supportive partnership with her current husband moved her to help other women achieve financial independence and break the cycles of abuse and poverty.

Banda is a member of the Global Leaders Council for Reproductive Health, a group of 16 sitting and former heads of state, high-level policymakers, and other leaders committed to advancing reproductive health initiatives for sustained development and prosperity. Vice President Banda recently spoke to AllAfrica about her work in advancing reproductive health in Malawi.

You started out in civil society 25 years ago. Tell us more about yourself and how you became involved in maternal and reproductive health.

I have been through an abusive marriage and I am a victim myself of childbirth complications. In 1984, after having my fourth child, I suffered from post-partum hemorrhage. It occurred to me that the only reason I am alive is because of the status that I had, because my husband was a high court judge. He had a friend who knew a gynecologist who rushed and saved my life.

The questions that I asked myself after walking out of the abusive marriage was, ‘What does it mean to those women that are locked in abusive marriages?’ And, in 1984, after I went through those childbirth complications, I asked, ‘What is happening to poor women? How many are dying while giving birth?’ And I said to myself, ‘I should never allow myself, as long as I live, to sit back when women are dying, while giving birth, giving life.’

So I started out by forming organizations – the first was in 1989. I felt that the economic involvement of women in Africa is the key to social and political empowerment so I established what is called the National Association of Business Women (NABW). That brought together 20,000 women, then 50,000 women. I looked at that mass and said, ‘This is a great opportunity for me now to go into family planning and reproductive rights as well as maternal health.’ And it coincided with the 1984 International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo. And so I became acquainted with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) in Malawi, and from that time onwards I worked very closely with the UNFPA.

In fact, when the last [George] Bush administration cut out funding to UNFPA, Americans organized themselves to support UNFPA and they gave me an award in 2006 for the leadership that I have demonstrated in fighting death through childbirth. So that is what I have done in Malawi. Right now under the Joyce Banda Foundation we have 70,000 women. And in the NABW and the Joyce Banda Foundation we started providing information and family planning devices because I did research and found most women die in hospitals between the ages of 17-19.

How did you develop family planning initiatives in Malawi?

It occurred to me there is a stubborn link between education and maternal health in my country. So a poor girl grows up in the village and at age 13 finishes primary school, and because she can’t go into secondary school (because of cost), she is forced into marriage. The community will encourage her to get married and you find that because their bodies have not matured, most complications occur in giving birth.

So I felt that apart from providing family planning, devices, pills and information there is also a great need to mobilize a rural leadership. Where I come from, where 85 percent of people are rural based, the traditional culture plays a role, and the chiefs have a very important role to play in fighting maternal death and encouraging people to use family planning concepts. So I found a network of chiefs and we found that where the chiefs took charge of their villages, accepted and internalized what was said, that it is them that can fight maternal death and that can help women live a better life. We find that a chief can say if any woman delivers in this village or if any birth attendant delivers a baby in this village there will be a fine. Women end up at clinics and then you will find in villages where this is practiced no women have died in the past three years.

And so because of the work I have done the African Union appointed me the Goodwill Ambassador for Safe Motherhood from 2009 to 2010 and that is when I worked again very closely with UNFPA to mobilize chiefs, grow networks and encourage chiefs, train chiefs in order to ensure that their villages are safe.

And what results have you seen in Malawi?

What we have seen is an improvement. Malawi was one of the two worst countries as far as maternal mortality was concerned. We were at 807 women dying per 100,000 births – the highest being Sierra Leone, which had been at war. What I have seen in Malawi is because of the initiatives and support USAID and others have given to the government of Malawi to make family planning accessible to rural people and accessible to the most vulnerable and the poor. Because of this, we have gone from 807 to 697 deaths per 100,000 births. Not that it is anything to be proud about but I think we must take pride in the fact that we have registered such reduction in death and we intend to continue.

During the Bush administration that is when the support for UNFPA was cut off completely. It was UNFPA and USAID that assisted Malawi with reproductive rights and maternal health and that is the time Americans formed the network to assist UNFPA to continue to deliver support to poor countries. When the [Barack] Obama administration came to power, we breathed a sigh of relief because we hoped we would get what we had lost during the Bush administration. We are threatened now because we are told that there are going to be budget cuts. As a member of the Global Leaders Council for Reproductive Health, we are at the time where we cannot loose that support – across Africa. And so we thought there would be an improvement with the Obama administration but it looks like we are going back to where we were six, seven or eight years ago.

What would you say to foreign donors that are contemplating sizing down their investments and aid packages in light of the global recession?

My request would be to look at reproductive rights and maternal health as a good investment because investing in the health of women has a multiplier effect in Africa. There is a link between maternal/reproductive health and poverty, and I believe there is a stubborn link between family planning and poverty. When we go out in the rural areas to speak to women and ask, ‘Don’t you think eight children are enough?’ They tell you, ‘You have money, I have children – that is all I have.’

And so for us there is no way the American government can cut its support for reproductive and maternal health initiatives or it will be a vicious cycle that will never stop. In order to assist Africa and fight poverty donors need to help Africa invest in women’s health. It is the best investment they can make.

To what extent do you see a connection between security, poverty and women’s issues?

The reason why I said investment in women’s’ health is the best investment they can make is because it is connected to poverty. It is the women that keep the African home; it is the women that grow the food; it is women that process the food; it is the women that stock the food. If the women are not happy, if the women are dying, then that can’t happen.

Now in Africa, a continent where poverty levels are high, a country that can’t feed itself risks strife. All these wars, all these fights, all these squabbles we see in Africa are all connected to poverty. Especially with youth that are discontented, that are frustrated and have no jobs, that have no food, that are fighting to survive. And you find that most of them are women as well. So for me investing in women is the best investment the United States government can make.

How might family planning connect to climate change and environmental degradation?

It is part of what they are calling the ‘youth barge’. In three-quarters of the countries in Africa the majority are the youth and you find that they are getting married and having children. For me the way to answer that question is to say that the environmental degradation that we see in Africa is partly a result of that ‘barge’ – overpopulation of our countries. For example, in Malawi we don’t have opportunities for the youth, so they are going about deforestation, cutting down trees, burning charcoal, and then the environment is degraded. So the only response I can have is to say that overpopulation ends up affecting our environment because cutting down trees is connected to poverty and a lack of opportunities.

How does Malawi stand in its pursuit of the relevant Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)?

The picture now is that by 2015 we might just make the child mortality expected levels of the Millennium Development Goals. But as far as maternal mortality there is no way we can do it. There is no way we can reach the expected levels; there is no way we can reach them in three and a half years. I believe our struggle against child mortality started out 30 years ago when family planning was being introduced in Malawi. There was so much resistance due to our traditional culture. They had to call it ‘child spacing’ in order to even influence the most affluent people to use it.

At the moment 85 percent of Malawians are rural based, and 64 percent of the people have been living below the poverty line for the longest time. I am told we have improved now to 45 percent. Malawians that are rural based are also the ones that are locked up in cultural tradition and to have that mind shift, to say that it is economical and it is more sensible for you to have fewer children, that has been the greatest challenge for Malawi. We have made strides now. There are so many opportunities for people but we need to continue to receive support in order to continue the fight, to make sure that communities put these plans into place. But I have seen that in those areas where we have engaged local leadership, we have been able to engage the most important people in the struggle for family planning.