Health Programs’ Benefits Remain Long After We’re GoneCommunity mobilizer Regina Natube educates residents about Guinea worm disease at Akoruni village, Kapoeta state, South Sudan, in November 2019. Credit: The Carter Center/Catalin Marin
By Dr. Kashef Ijaz, Vice President of Health Programs, The Carter Center
The Carter Center’s neglected tropical disease programs treat and prevent Guinea worm disease, trachoma, river blindness, lymphatic filariasis, and schistosomiasis, with the goal to control, eliminate, and eradicate. Beyond the alleviation of the human suffering caused by these illnesses, this work brings ancillary benefits to communities, health systems, and infrastructure that may be just as important.
These diseases are neglected because they occur among people who are neglected — marginalized populations living at the end of the road. On the one hand, such communities are impressively self-sufficient, growing their own food, practicing folk medicine, and devising systems to address community needs such as education and maintenance of order.
On the other hand, many of these communities have little or no access to effective, modern health services. It’s impossible to know how many people die of treatable conditions because doctors and hospitals are too far away and too hard to reach.
Our programs are designed to rely heavily on volunteers from within the communities they serve. Those volunteers become equipped to use their skills and training to sustain their communities’ health long after the Carter Center’s work is completed. The communities also develop the knowledge base to advocate for themselves to their local, regional, and national government ministries and representatives. In many instances, the presence of an NTD program leads to strengthening of the health systems and infrastructure such as with the installation of a borehole well for safe water or a structure that serves as a clinic.
On top of the immediate benefits that accompany better health – more productivity, less poverty, better education, stronger communities, greater stability – an ongoing health-conscious mind-set and lasting infrastructure exponentially multiply the value of every dollar and every hour put into these programs. There can be no better return on investment.