By David Pendered
Health care advocate Lorrie King was in Cienfuegos, finishing a tour of Cuba’s health care system, when she first heard of an earthquake in Nepal that likely damaged facilities that support her organization’s hygiene programs for girls.
“A colleague said, ‘I thought of you; it’s really bad,’” King said from her home in Clarkston. “When we got to Havana, 4.5 hours later, I got to the Internet and sent a message to everyone on Facebook Messenger: ‘Let me know you’re OK.’”
Word trickled in, over the course of several days, that all the health care workers affiliated with King are safe. However, among the facilities demolished in Sindhupulchek were 13 schools where King’s non-profit organization, 50Cents.Period, provided lessons and supplies for feminine hygiene to students and teachers.
Girls in Nepal and some other developing nations tend to miss a week of school each month because of a lack of sanitary supplies and access to a suitable bathroom. The cost of supplies is about 50 cents a month in developing countries.
“We decreased absenteeism by 95 percent by offering that program in schools,” King said. “We are committed to helping rebuild in Sindhupulchek, so 50 Cents has what it needs. Our relation with Nepal is, we’re in it to win it.”
King’s experience fits into metro Atlanta’s living legacy as a center of global health initiatives. Just on a smaller scale.
High profile initiatives capture most of the attention. CARE, for example, intends to ship this week enough emergency shelter and hygiene kits to help 2,500 persons. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued a travelers’ advisory for Nepal, recommending U.S. residents avoid all nonessential travel to the country.
Other international initiatives are less visible, but no less significant in the areas they impact. For instance, David Allman, chairman and owner of the real estate development and service firm Regent Partners, leads a program in Nicaragua that this summer is to open an ecolodge that intends to alleviate poverty and its ills through education and free market business principles.
King said she spent most of her career working in East Africa and South Asia. These days, she works with the Clarkston Development Foundation, helping refugees from war-torn areas including Democratic Republic of the Congo, Iraq, Burma, Bhutan, Afghanistan, Central African Republic, South Sudan and Colombia. Sixty languages are spoken in the city that Time magazine has called the most diverse square mile in the nation, according to the city’s website.
King was selected to visit Cuba on a trip coordinated for the American Public Health Association by its Cuban counterpart, MEDICC, or the Medical Education Cooperation with Cuba.
While in Cuba, King confirmed what others have reported: The country’s universal health care system is well able to provide medical diagnoses, but less able to provide medicine and other treatments. The economic embargo prevents the import of many medical supplies.
That wasn’t all.
“Electronic medical records do not exist,” King said. “You have neighborhoods where a doctor and nurse team are doing home visits, checking on people with high blood pressure and diabetes, who just gave birth, have HIV and are taking meds. They’re doing all this on handwritten medical records that are taken around by bicycle.”
One practice in Cuba that King said could apply in Clarkston and other U.S. communities is the program of community health workers. The idea is a little like the old days when doctors made house calls. Community health workers visit patients at home to see their health, as well as how they function in their home. The health care workers can spot potential problems and get help that may keep the problem from escalating.
A similar approach proved effective in Denver. Denver Health, that city’s version of Grady Health System, devised an outreach program that helped curb costs by having health care workers make house calls – even if the house call was to a homeless person who lived under a bridge.
“It’s taking Grady’s clinics a step further,” King said. “Instead of people going to the clinic, the clinic goes to them. It reduces health care spending by reducing unnecessary visit to the emergency room, and unnecessary visits to the doctor. And it increases a person’s capacity to learn how to manage their own health.”