The Washington Post, December 2014
--This post was originally published on the ONE Campaign's blog
March Madness? How about tax madness? Ah, tax season. Whether it’s money you owe, or a refund coming your way, I’m sure you know how much it is. But if you’re like most us of, you likely don’t know where your tax dollars actually go. Think about it. Do you know how your tax dollars are spent? Don’t be discouraged, neither did I.
There’s so much talk in the news about social security, Medicare, and foreign assistance spending. It got us wondering how much we contribute to each. Well, thankfully we’ve now got a simple way for you to find out.
Today, we’re launching our new Interactive Tax Tool that shows you where your tax dollars go. Just enter your household income and you’ll see your tax money break down into eight categories -– national defense, social security, health, unemployment, Medicare, interest on US debt, foreign assistance and other. It’s not exact — it assumes you file as a single without exemptions — but you get the picture.
Most importantly, ONE’s tax tool reveals how only a small fraction of the US budget has already dramatically improved the lives of the poorest people on the planet, and how you personally have contributed to that effort. Together, Americans have helped put 5 million people on AIDS medication, halved malaria deaths in 11 African countries and saved the lives of 15 million children. Pretty amazing stuff.
Time and again, research has shown us that when people see how much good is being done for so little, their opinions on foreign assistance change. As a matter of fact, there’s no single message that effectively changes more skeptics into believers than the living proof of what has been accomplished for so little. The problem is, not enough people have seen this proof. That’s where you come in.
I’m asking you to not only check out the Tax Tool yourself, but to share it with all your friends. And ask them to share it with their friends too. Because the more people who see the proof that foreign aid is working, the more people will stand up to protect it. And after all, that’s what ONE is all about.Read more
As Vice President of Field Programs at PATH, I appreciate efforts like World Water Day that call for universal access to the solutions that are the foundation to the health and well-being of communities. I appreciate these efforts both as a public health expert and as a native Nigerian who has seen firsthand the burden of disease in Africa, where diarrhea is now the leading killer of children under five.
I grew up in Nigeria and my family was fortunate enough to have safe drinking water and a toilet. Millions in my country did not, however, and many still don’t today. Later in my life, when I became a doctor practicing in Ilorin, I saw many children who were far too small for their age. I remember one mother in particular who visited my clinic several times with her tiny child, who was severely dehydrated. It wasn’t difficult for me to imagine why he was repeatedly ill. Lack of access to water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) is devastating in its own right, but when other family members are ill with diseases like malaria or tuberculosis and waste is not disposed of properly, the dangers are compounded. In these environments, it’s no surprise that diarrheal diseases are perpetual and unforgiving, especially among vulnerable children and those who are already ill.
Those of us living in industrialized nations can easily forget the extent to which we rely on safe drinking water and sanitation to stay healthy and to prevent the spread of disease. In fact, no innovation in the past 200 years has done more to save lives and improve health than sanitation. And anyone who has suffered with a water-borne illness knows how difficult it would be to be productive in that condition. In nations like the U.S. where diarrhea has become a mere inconvenience, too many are unaware that diarrhea is still the second leading killer of children globally. When it doesn’t kill, a long cycle of dehydration and malnutrition takes its toll, and both physical and cognitive stunting are often sad long-term consequences.
Worldwide, millions lack access to safe drinking water and billions lack a latrine: a major contributor to the 1.5 million children who die of diarrheal diseases every year, a security risk for women who have to journey long distances for water and for privacy, and a deterrent to girls’ school attendance. The cost of continuing to ignore this crisis is high. Fortunately, so is the opportunity for effective solutions. To defeat diarrheal disease, we need an integrated prevention and treatment approach, and WASH is essential to that equation. Over half of the hospital beds in low income countries are filled with patients suffering with water-borne diseases. Imagine the impact that simple access to WASH could have in those settings. Imagine the impact it could have had on that mother who repeatedly brought her child to see me at the clinic. Chances are, she never would have needed to come. A cup of safe drinking water and a latrine are so much more than health solutions; they are hope for mothers everywhere, all of whom want the same things for their children.
World Water Day is a great opportunity to celebrate success and to renew our commitment moving forward. The recent achievement of the safe water MDG target ahead of schedule is worthy of celebration and shows us what’s possible, but the lagging behind of the sanitation MDG target, not to mention the many families who still lack access to safe drinking water, is a sobering reminder that we can’t stop here.
We all have a role to play. Just as WASH solutions are simple but powerful, so is our request to advocates on World Water Day: to lend your voice to the cause. Visit waterday.org to sign up your Facebook or Twitter profile and share messages about the incredible impact of WASH. Your voice can help save lives. Join the movement.
-- Ayo Ajayi is Vice President of Field Programs at PATHRead more
Summer 2006, rural China: My colleagues and I take a bathroom break at a rest stop on the side of the road on our way to a health clinic. Unlike many female restrooms around the world, there isn’t a long line of patrons waiting to use the holes in the ground separated by slabs of cement. I walk over to one of the farthest holes in the room and, my colleague stands in front of my “stall” as a human door. Other patrons giggle at how shy we are using the makeshift toilets. I strategically place my feet as far away as possible from the urine and feces on the ground, remnants from previous guests who had missed their chance to score inside the basket of waste collecting beneath the building.
Summer 2006, Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia: I am out in the countryside conducting a site visit. I really have to use the restroom. When I ask where the toilet is located, one of the locals points to an outhouse in the middle of the field and says something in Mongolian for my colleague to translate. “He is embarrassed for you to use the outhouse,” my colleague tells me. “He says it smells very bad and thinks it is better if you hold it until you get to your hotel.”
Fall 2010, Kampong Thom province, Cambodia: We’re observing a village health volunteer train a group of mothers on diarrhea and pneumonia. After the training, I ask her how she thinks it went. She tells me that even if we train the mothers on how to prevent diarrhea and pneumonia, they lack basic, critical supplies like soap, water filters, and latrines.
I have encountered challenging situations when having to use the restroom. Factors beyond my control: no toilet paper, no soap, no water, non-flush toilets; things I took for granted at home, at work, and even at most of the shopping malls back home in Utah. When I started to work on the diarrhea and pneumonia project with the PATH team in Cambodia, I learned first-hand how uncontrollable factors such as flooding, dirty water, and poor sanitation contribute to high rates of diarrhea.
My favorite health theory is the ecological model, which explores how environments influence health behaviors and thus health outcomes. My previous post raised the question of how health policies and behavior changes are linked in order to work with one’s environmental context. In order to gain a better understanding, I spoke to members of the Technical Working Group for Acute Respiratory Infection and Diarrhea Prevention and Control, who are helping revive programming to address childhood diarrheal disease and pneumonia in Cambodia and are providing guidance on key policies:
-- Mr. Ork Vichit, Program Officer for childhood pneumonia and diarrheal disease at PATH
-- Mr. Chum Aun, Health Officer for maternal and child health issues at UNICEF
-- Dr. Chhorn Veasna, Program Manager of the National Program on ARI and Diarrheal Disease at the Ministry of Health in Cambodia
-- Dr. Bun Sreng, Chief of Bureau of Prevention and Control for the Department of Communicable Disease Control at the Ministry of Health of Cambodia
How did the experience of local health staff inform the revision of the national policy on pneumonia and diarrheal disease?
Mr. Vichit: The new policy focuses on community participation. If we want to strengthen the community level, we have to strengthen all health levels: national, provincial, operational, and health center levels in order to properly prevent, manage, and treat diarrhea and pneumonia. For instance, equipping village health volunteers (VHVs) with ORS and zinc was a key piece of the revised policy, which we incorporated based on community feedback.
Mr. Aun: This is the country’s first policy allowing VHVs to administer ORS and zinc. With VHVs being able to provide direct treatment to mild cases, they can prevent severe cases.
Low-osmolarity ORS and zinc are now pivotal parts of diarrhea treatment and prevention in Cambodian clinics.
How important is it that national and local level efforts coincide to prevent and treat diarrhea and pneumonia in Cambodia?
Dr. Veasna: [Because of this pilot] VHVs have now been specifically trained on diarrhea and pneumonia. They are better connected with the National Program and moving forward can bring together national and local-level efforts. This connection is important as we try to have a more coordinated strategy.
Now that the policy has been revised and approved, what needs to happen in order for the changes to take place?
Mr. Aun: Widespread dissemination of the new policy must take place as fast as possible. The accompanying national guidelines should also indicate how health center staff will work with VHVs in ensuring that ORS and zinc are being properly administered in the villages. In addition, the guidelines must also indicate how health center staff will coordinate with VHVs to make sure that they have adequate supplies of ORS and zinc is continuously replenished. Interpersonal communication between VHVs and caretakers of children under five is essential to the success of new programming efforts by the National Program. Furthermore, VHVs must continually be trained on the most updated information on prevention and treatment, made aware of changes in policy, and must communicate this information to caretakers. Residents in rural Cambodia do not have access to mass media such as television and radio, and so VHVs are crucial to linking them with information.
Dr. Sreng: Families, especially the poor in Cambodia, have many things to worry about including making a living and finding food for their children. We need to communicate effectively to them that if they take care of their children by keeping them clean and preventing them from getting sick, they will save money by spending only five cents for a bar of soap instead of $25 (US) to treat severe diarrhea if they were to seek care from a private health care provider.
A Village Health Volunteer educates a mothers’ group in her community.
How do you link policy and behavior change initiatives in an environment where there is a lack of basic resources such as latrines and water filters in order to prevent children from getting sick?
Dr. Veasna: The National Program must continue to work with key stakeholders like PATH and other government arms to fill gaps such as the lack of access to these life-saving supplies. PATH’s work with water filters is a good example of how we can ensure access to populations in need. What has made this pilot successful is the collaborative effort from stakeholders in all areas. These partnerships are important to support the National Program’s core work: helping to decrease morbidity and mortality of the children of Cambodia.
--Gizelle V. Gopez is a Program Associate for PATH’s Cambodia Country Program
For more information:
-- Safe drinking water and sanitation are key for the prevention diarrhea and pneumonia. This World Water Day, raise your voice to bring them within reach of the families who need them most.Read more
This blog post is about girls - one in particular – and her name is Nombinqo.
It’s not fair to say Nombinqo grew up in rural South Africa. Growing up implies so many things - a sense of completion, inspiration, growth and pleasure – just as many smiles as tears. Perhaps more. No, Nombinqo did not “grow up” in the full sense of the word. Nombinqo worked.
Nombinqo’s days were hijacked by the realities of rural life in the developing world – water collection, farming for pennies, seemingly endless efforts to ward off disease. As Nombinqo became a woman, a wife, a mother… these things remained the same. Well into her thirties she lived off of government grants, white rice and an alternative corn meal – spending what time she could spare from the fields collecting dirty water from a distant source.
Nombinqo has always been brilliant, loving and well respected. While born into poverty, she had many of the tools with which women all over the world build families, careers, even empires. What Nombinqo didn’t have was access to the basic resources that enable a person to live in freedom. Nombinqo didn’t have access to clean water.
Nombinqo’s life changed in the late nineties when the government built a well in her village. Without having to collect water, she began to save those extra minutes each day, like pennies of interest, and use them to earn extra income – enough to buy a sewing machine. Nombinqo sewed long skirts, curtains, clothes. She sewed her girls the uniforms they would need to attend school. With the profit from her home business Nombinqo bought wheat, yeast and oil. Combing these simple ingredients with the gift of clean water, she made bread and began to sell her loaves in a neighboring town.
Soon, Nombinqo’s daughters were “growing up” in a way their mother never did. Not only could they attend school – Nombinqo’s first gift to them – but if you walk through the grassy yards of the village today, you’ll find them laughing and playing. Their laughter is affecting, mostly because it’s rare. In a place where oppressive poverty pervades every moment of daily life, these children are simply, immeasurably rich.
When I first met Nombinqo she was already a Mama – a middle-aged matron in a small village in South Africa’s Eastern Cape. As a wandering girl of 20, I was entranced by the simple beauty of her story. But one question haunted me for months: “How did Nombinqo know what she was missing?”
Surrounded by people who lived no differently than she did, Nombinqo still believed that there was something greater - a more human experience that she longed for. It’s the same hope I see in the eyes of countless women I’ve met since then. As Oscar Wilde famously quipped, "We’re all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars." The object of Nombinqo’s water collecting, sewing, baking, breathing… was to provide for her daughters an intangible but essential thing of incredible worth. Where I work – we call it dignity.
Unfortunately, pervasive poverty keeps billions of women from fully experiencing the promise of human dignity with which we’re all born. Nombinqo’s struggle to provide a more complete life for her family was only made possible when her basic needs (in this case for water) were met. For others, the missing element is food, education or the place to express beliefs and opinions.
Without a distinct change – without a paradigm shift like the digging of a local well – Nombinqo’s determination could just as easily have turned to desperation or even resignation. If that had happened, I never would have learned my lesson: that with the most basic tools for growth, our will to live in dignity can animate the most beautiful changes in our lives.
What’s remarkable about human rights is that they are universal (much like the human experience itself). Nombinqo and I share these rights; they’re ours – a bond of humanity that makes her sorrows my sorrows and her story of triumph my joy. Though she may not mark this day on any calendar, Nombinqo will celebrate International Women’s Day by providing for her family. I’ll be celebrating with her, by putting into practice the simple lesson she taught me. There are some prerequisites to living a life in dignity, and with each basic need comes an equally basic human right.
In observance of International Women’s Day – and looking forward to World Water Day on March 22nd – I’ll continue to defend women and our human right to clean water. Join me in connecting girls and inspiring futures.
-- Katherine Straus directs development for The DigDeep Right to Water Project. You can reach her here: firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information:
-- Help us bring safe drinking water and sanitation to women and girls everywhere. Donate your Facebook status for World Water Day!
-- DC-based advocates: Join us on March 22 as we raise A Drink to the World, celebrating the impact of water, sanitation, and hygiene.
Photo credit: PATH/Janie HayesRead more