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Reflections from Senegal: Despite hardships, a country focused on healthcare

Nov 02, 2016

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By Jim Gerwe, member of the Kiwanis Club of Cincinnati, Ohio

Jim Gerwe, member of the Kiwanis Club of Cincinnati, Ohio, recently returned from Senegal. He travelled with a group from Kiwanis and the U.S. Fund for UNICEF to witness activities related to health care, including maternal and neonatal tetanus elimination sustainability.

Having spent three months gutting and remodeling our kitchen, I couldn’t wait to complete the project—tired of having to wash dishes in a bathroom. It seemed like such a hassle and hardship. That perspective changed quickly as I had the amazing opportunity to travel across Senegal witnessing real hardships.

For example, Sophie is a 14-year-old mother with no family but her 2-year-old son. She is trying to build a life for the two of them. I have a 10-year-old daughter of my own and can’t imagine her living on her own, much less raising a child. Ibrahim Ada, originally from the neighboring country Gambia, is 11 years old in a foreign land. He lives with more than 100 other boys in a space smaller than my home.

Despite these challenges, it was amazing to see the positive impact of the work of UNICEF and the Senegal Ministry of Health. As the Minister of Health shared, they have the technical capability—they just need the money. And we saw that.

While the hospitals that we visited didn’t have private waiting rooms or Starbucks coffee in a café, they have a robust immunization program, especially for pregnant women and babies. They have methods for reaching women in their remote villages such as educational programs in small health centers. And their efforts are extremely effective. Senegal eliminated MNT in 2012, and now they’re working to eliminate measles.

I took away from my trip to Senegal the wonderful hospitality of everyone we met, the courage and strength they showed to make a better life even without everything that we have in the United States, and the continued importance of donating to The Eliminate Project. MNT elimination is sustainable. And the sooner that we provide the funds, the sooner UNICEF can provide lifesaving vaccines to women, mothers and families around the world.

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