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Dream Becoming A Reality

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The residents of Kyukuni Village, Voo Kyamatu Ward, Kitui County had challenges in accessing water before the intervention of the Amref Health Africa Kitui WASH Project. Residents would trek for over 15km in search of water, a situation that not only affected the time women spent doing other economic activities, but also affected school enrolment and attendance among school going children.

According to the Project Officer George Wambua, there were shallow aquifers which were an alternative source of water, but the residents believed that water from this source would only be enough for household use and nothing else. This was a long standing belief that they held, and changing it was an uphill task.

During a baseline survey that was carried out in 1998, water was ranked first on the priority list of needs among communities. For the residents of Kyukuni Village, water was a priority but they did not realize how it could help to change their economic status. “Changing their mind-set to make them see how water could improve their lives economically was a challenging task. However, with continued follow-ups and interactions with the community, we were able to change the community’s way of doing things,”said Mr Wambua.

In trying to make a case for using water to improve the community’s economic status, the project started by developing a small farm around the Miembeni giant well situated in Zombe/ Mwitika Ward. The well serves a group of 12 families who decided to change their traditional way of doing things. They decided to extend water use from domestic to other economic activities including horticulture farming and poultry keeping.

Sukuma wiki farming

According to Mr Mutua, one of the beneficiaries of the project, a number of giant wells were commissioned along the Thua River through the  support of  Amref, but only a  few of the groups seriously engaged in intensive farming.

“You would find a group of 15 households doing small scale farming that was not enough to support the whole group, but yet the well had sufficient recharge of about 10m3.

This means they only utilised 30% of the water in the well leaving 70% not utilised”, said Mr Mutua. He added that when his group realized that they were sleeping on gold about two years ago, they started serious farming activities around their water points. The group now owns a two-acre piece of land that can be utilized freely by the group.

Kitui East has been hard hit by the regular occurrence of drought due to erratic rainfall. For the last 10 years, the rainfall pattern has been unpredictable. The rainfall onset has been delayed every year, and when it has rained, rainfall has also not been adequate. The only remaining option is to use water from the well to grow crops that can feed their families and have some left overs to sell for economic sustainability. This is what Mr Mutua the chairperson, encouraged his group to do.

“We started our farming in a small way by cultivating very basic crops just enough to feed our families. Little did we know it was our turning point as a group,” said Mr Mutua.

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Mr Mutua added that they upgraded their activities by growing cash crops like tomatoes, onions, water melons and carrots. The first group was successful and made good profit. On sharing the profit among the 15 households’ after all necessary deductions, each was able to get Kshs 5,000. This enabled members have cash to do other things like paying school fees and other bills. The community members had longed for.

Poultry farming

“God is great, our dream has come true,” said one of the group members.

Additional activities carried out using water from the well include poultry farming. This is another project that has had multiple benefits to the family. The groups now have eggs that they use to feed their children, thus preventing diseases associated with poor feeding. They also sell the birds to make good money for the household use.

The project though funding from Amref Italy has built 50 giant wells to support 20,500 people with agricultural activities and 218,940 people with access to safe water and sanitation.   The project is committed to make safe and affordable drinking water, hygiene and sanitation a reality for the people of Kitui County.

Amref Health Africa 

Health

Bridging The Gap Between Menstrual Health and Mental Health in Africa

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Menstrual health is not just about periods; it’s about breaking the cycle of exclusion and empowering the future of Africa – one girl at a time.

Empowering women and girls who menstruate worldwide starts with breaking the silence around periods. Eno, a 14-year-old girl from a remote community in the south, shrinks when her period arrives each month. Shame and fear are a constant part of her experience. “At school, whispers follow me. They call me ‘dirty’ because I can’t afford pads. I use the white piece of cloth my mother gave me and the extra layer of pad I had sewn on our neighbor’s machine using pieces from his shop.” Eno’s story, though heartbreaking, is far from unique. Across Africa, millions of girls and women face a hidden crisis: period poverty. 

Period poverty refers to the inability to afford and access menstrual products, sanitation and hygiene facilities, and education and awareness to manage menstrual health. Globally, more than two billion people around the world menstruate monthly.

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Menstruation, a healthy and natural biological process continues to be shrouded in silence and stigma across many parts of Africa. This silence perpetuates a cycle of neglect and exclusion, where the menstrual health needs of women and girls are ignored, leading to significant physical and mental health issues. 

Daily, women and girls are unable to afford sanitary pads, forcing them to resort to unhygienic alternatives like old rags, leaves, old clothes, cotton wool, toilet paper, newspaper, and make-shift hygienic pads. This lack of access not only affects their physical health but also their mental well-being, as they experience anxiety, shame, and isolation during their menstrual cycles. With limited to no access to safe water and sanitation to manage their menstrual health and hygiene, these women and girls who cannot afford menstrual products do not live well within their rights and freedoms as their menses interrupt their day-to-day flow.

Human-Centered Stories 

To truly understand the impact, we must listen to the voices of those affected. Nike, a 15-year-old girl from a rural community in Ogun State shared, “I have to stay home when I have my period because I don’t have pads. I miss out on school and feel ashamed.” Rukkayat, another young woman from a community in Abuja stated, “The stigma around menstruation is so strong that I can’t even talk to my teachers about it. It feels like a dirty secret. I feel dirty walking around my school. So, I’d rather stay at home when I’m on my menses to endure the pain and take care of myself.” These anonymous quotes reflect a common reality for many girls and women across Africa, highlighting the urgent need for change.

Addressing Stigmas and Period Poverty 

Period poverty stems from persistent stigmas around menstruation. These stigmas include the belief that menstruating women are impure, leading to their exclusion from everyday activities and social interactions. Such beliefs not only undermine women’s confidence but also reinforce gender inequality. Periods, already a source of physical discomfort, become a breeding ground for anxiety, shame, and isolation. This can lead to depression, decreased self-esteem, and a reluctance to seek help. The link between menstrual health and mental health is undeniable.

To combat these stigmas, sensitization initiatives, and project outreaches need to provide menstrual products and education. These programs will empower girls with knowledge and resources, breaking the silence and changing societal attitudes toward menstruation. 

Breaking the Cycle: Investing in Solutions, Empowering Futures 

So, how can we bridge the gap between menstrual health and mental health by showing one can’t do without the other? By recognizing that menstrual health is intrinsically linked to mental well-being, we can create holistic approaches that address both.

  • Combat Stigma Through Education: Open conversations are key. Educational programs that address menstrual hygiene and dispel myths can empower girls and communities. Schools and communities should provide comprehensive menstrual education that includes mental health support.
  • Invest in Sustainable Solutions: Supporting the development and distribution of affordable, reusable menstrual products is crucial. Access to menstrual products should be seen as a basic human right, and efforts should be made to ensure that all girls and women have the necessary resources.
  • Build Sanitation Infrastructure: Safe and private sanitation facilities in schools and public spaces are essential for dignity and hygiene management.
  • Champion Advocacy: Investing in menstrual health advocacy at the local and national level can lead to policy changes that prioritize girls’ needs. From providing dignity kits to advocating for safe and private facilities, menstrual hygiene management is crucial for their well-being and development. Through advocating for women and girls, we can ensure every girl has the knowledge and resources she needs to thrive. 

By investing in menstrual health, we invest in a future where girls like Eno, Nike, and Rukkayat can access education, participate fully in life, and thrive. Through increased conversations and heartfelt advocacy, the Going North Project initiative is addressing the urgent need for quality healthcare, education, and the eradication of period poverty through targeted outreach programs.

The Going North Project aligns with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of Education, Health, and Gender Equality, which are crucial for fostering a brighter future and empowering girls – one at a time.

Let us address the urgent need for accessible menstrual health resources and education, highlighting how this issue impacts individuals globally. This advocacy inspires and reminds us that menstrual equity is essential for a just and healthy world. Together, we can break the stigma and ensure menstrual equity for all.

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Remedial Health unveils new app with digital POS and barcode scanner

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Remedial Health, a health tech startup that develops solutions to make Africa’s pharmaceutical value chain more efficient has unveiled an updated version of its customer-facing app, designed to function as an operating system for neighbourhood pharmacies and Proprietary Patent Medicine Vendors (PPMVs) across the continent.

The new app comes with a digital POS terminal to support payment collection, virtual business accounts to receive payments, an in-built barcode scanner feature for recording product sales and store-switch functionality to enable the seamless management of multiple stores, as well as inventory management solutions for restocking and easily identifying short-dated products. The app also offers comprehensive financial reporting to manage profit and loss, and data analytics to inform decision making.

Despite accounting for 85 per cent of retail medicines sold in Africa’s pharmaceutical industry (projected to reach $70 billion market size by 2030), the absence of bespoke digital tools to manage their unique sales and inventory management needs means neighbourhood pharmacies and Proprietary patent Medicine Vendors (PPMVs) are unable to run their operations as effectively and profitably as possible. At the same time, the reliance on paper-based inventory and sales management processes means manufacturers have limited empirical insights into customer behaviour to inform their decisions on production and distribution. 

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The new Remedial Health app has been designed specifically for healthcare businesses in Africa, with tailored features that have been designed to support effective decision making to drive business growth and profitability. Starting in Nigeria, healthcare businesses can access vetted medicines, and manage their sales and inventory on one easy-to-use platform, freeing up time and capacity to effectively serve their customers and communities. The app also enables Remedial Health to provide consolidated, real-time data on market behaviour to manufacturers for increased profitability and better decision-making across the value chain.

According to Samuel Okwuada, CEO, and co-founder of Remedial Health, “Neighbourhood pharmacies and PPMVs represent the frontline of healthcare delivery in Africa but they have historically been left to their own devices to figure out how to be efficient and profitable. Our mission is to empower these essential service providers with the tools they need to manage day-to-day operations and seamlessly run their practices effectively. We spent a lot of time interacting with our customers in the process of delivering this product and the feedback has been great. We are excited by the opportunity to get the app into the hands of pharmacies and PPMVs across the country to support their ongoing success, as well as the health and wellbeing of the nation”.

In 2023, Remedial Health sold more than 300 million individual packs of medicines to 7,500 hospitals, neighbourhood pharmacies and PPMVs across all 36 states of Nigeria. Its customers also improved their profits by 30 per cent on average, with access to more than 8,000 vetted products at the same, or better than, open-air medicine market prices. They can also access same-day delivery and leverage inventory financing to minimise cash-flow friction for routine orders and maximise sales opportunities.

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World Health Day 2024: Nurturing Health Through Nutrition

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World Health Day (Family Photo)

As we commemorate World Health Day 2024 themed ‘My health, my right,’ the focus turns to the critical importance of good food and nutrition, particularly in regions like Central and West Africa. Nutrition is the foundation of human health, influencing every aspect of physical, cognitive, and emotional well-being. In these regions, where socio-economic gaps, environmental challenges, and diverse cultural norms converge, the importance of good nutrition becomes even more pronounced.

That is why multinationals like Nestlé are championing affordable and good nutrition for families through its brands while ensuring the sustainable sourcing of raw materials such as coffee, cocoa, soya among other ingredients in its supply chain.

“Nestlé reaffirms its commitment to promoting quality and affordable nutrition, particularly in Central and West Africa. We believe that access to balanced diets, rich in essential nutrients, is vital for maintaining optimal health and well-being. Together, we strive for a future where everyone has access to nutritious diets, ensuring not only physical health but also fostering local communities and prosperous societies,” says Mauricio Alarcón, CEO Nestlé Central and West Africa.

Foundation of Health

In Central and West Africa, numerous health challenges persist, ranging from enduring malnutrition to the rising incidence of diet-related non-communicable diseases. These nutritional deficiencies not only hinder physical growth and development but also weaken immune function, cognitive abilities, and overall disease resilience.

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Essential nutrients found in a balanced diet, including vitamins, minerals, proteins, carbohydrates, and fats, are the building blocks of health. Ensuring adequate nutrition during critical life stages, such as pregnancy, infancy, and early childhood, is vital for optimal growth, development, and long-term health outcomes.

Preventing Non-Communicable Diseases

In recent years, Africa has seen an increase in the rate of non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, and obesity. This rise mirrors global trends but is amplified by unique regional dynamics. While infectious diseases remain significant, lifestyle factors, like diet and physical activity, drive much of this burden.

A balanced diet is paramount in promoting overall health and preventing chronic diseases. A balanced diet encompasses a diverse range of nutrient-rich foods from all food groups, including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats.  This dietary approach not only supports physical well-being but also aids in weight management and reduces the risk of obesity and associated health issues.

Access to a diverse and balanced diet, rich in essential nutrients is not only a basic human necessity but also a prerequisite for achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) related to health, well-being, and poverty alleviation.

Empowering Communities Through Education

Empowering communities through education on nutrition is a powerful tool in the fight against malnutrition. Providing knowledge about healthy eating habits and balanced diets through initiatives in schools, community centers, and healthcare facilities can help dispel myths and empower people to make informed dietary choices.

Fortified Essentials for Balanced Nutrition

Some companies, like Nestlé, recognizes the importance of nutrition and quality in their product offerings. For instance, Nestlé’s R&D center in Côte d’Ivoire employs scientists and food technologists dedicated to developing affordable nutrition solutions for the region. They consider local dietary preferences and nutritional needs, integrating regionally sourced cereals and plant protein sources into formulations. These products are fortified with essential micronutrients like iron, iodine, zinc, and other vitamins and minerals ensuring optimal nutritional value.

Additionally, these experts have access to Nestlé’s global network of experts, advanced analytical equipment, labs, and pilot plants across all company R&D locations.

Products like Maggi, widely recognized across the continent, are fortified with essential micronutrients such as iron and iodine, meeting local preferences while boosting nutritional intake. Likewise, Cerelac, enriched with iron, and Nido, fortified with calcium, provide vital nutrients essential for children’s growth and development.

In Nigeria, the company recently introduced Nido Milk & Soya, a product that integrates locally sourced soybeans. This initiative offers a budget-friendly option for nutritious consumption, while providing healthy nutrition among consumers.

Harnessing the Power of Collaboration

The path to improved nutrition in Central and West Africa necessitates collaborative efforts across sectors and stakeholders. By partnering with governments, civil society organizations, academia, and the private sector, we can combine resources, expertise, and innovations to drive meaningful change in the region.

Nestlé reaffirms its commitment to being a force for good by tackling the root causes of malnutrition, advocating for food security policies, and empowering individuals and communities with knowledge and resources for informed dietary choices. This in the long term creates a future where everyone experiences the highest standard of health and well-being.

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