Overcoming Hypertension in Africa

By Mark Mallon, Executive Vice President International, AstraZeneca In advance of World Hypertension Day on May 17, PSI and Jhpiego have teamed up to bring awareness to the tremendous cost of hypertension to low- and middle-income countries. Together with several other international and local NGOs, the organizations are working to implement Healthy Heart Africa, a

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Tackling Africa’s burden of hypertension through communities and partnerships

By Dr. Stella Njagi, Christian Health Association of Kenya (CHAK) In advance of World Hypertension Day on May 17, PSI and Jhpiego have teamed up to bring awareness to the tremendous cost of hypertension to low- and middle-income countries. Together with several other international and local NGOs, the organizations are working to implement Healthy Heart

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#OneBillionNets to Save Lives and Defeat Malaria

By Jenny Tolep, External Relations & Communications World Malaria Day is fast approaching on Saturday, April 25th, and this year we have much to celebrate. Since 2004 the global community has distributed one billion nets, saving more than 4 million lives. Created as part of the One Billion Nets campaign, the video below marks this

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Silent Killer Gaining Momentum in Africa

Partnership designed to address hypertension, cardiovascular disease head-on

Dr. Elijah Ogola, vice president for the East-Pan-African Society of Cardiology, describes how the innovative public-private partnership Healthy Heart Africa – which includes Population Services Kenya – is improving hypertension care in Kenya, for NextBillion. Right now, we have the opportunity to confront a silent killer that is gaining momentum across Africa. Hypertension, or raised blood pressure, has grown

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Children as Ambassadors for Health in their Communities

Photo of the week

By Jenny Tolep It’s been said that children are our future. In Mombasa, Kenya, this serves true as school children become ambassadors for health, spreading knowledge about handwashing practices to their communities. PSI knows that when children learn healthy behaviors, they help pass on life-saving information to their families – setting off a powerful ripple

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A total market for circumcision

How private sector providers add marketing and distribution value for voluntary medical male circumcision

By Oscar Abello President Barack Obama. Former Kenya Prime Minister Raila Odinga. Oscar-award winning actress Lupita Nyong’o. They’re not just of Kenyan heritage—all three are specifically of Luo heritage, the third largest ethnic group in Kenya, predominantly residing in the Nyanza province on the shores of Lake Victoria in Kenya’s western region. The Luo standout

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Getting to zero

Nurses integrating services to put HIV on the retreat in Kenya

Editor’s note: Part of a special series on the global health workforce, in partnership with the Frontline Health Workers Coalition. Checkout #HealthWorkersCount on Twitter for more from coalition partners. Issue No. 18 of Impact, focusing on the global health workforce, launches next week. Caroline Atieno grew up watching the AIDS epidemic burn through the coastal towns

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The secrets of Starbucks

PSI and MSI Launch Social Franchising eLearning Course

By Christine Bixiones, Technical Advisor, Sexual Reproductive Health & TB Department Twenty years ago in Nepal, the first modern example of social franchising for health – the application of commercial franchising strategies to achieve public health goals – began expanding access to quality health services. This year, PSI and Marie Stopes International, two organizations that have

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Social and structural drivers

Scaling up proven biomedical and behavioral interventions isn’t enough

Social and structural drivers of the HIV epidemic: what’s the buzz about?

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Handwashing in Action

By Chris Mallaband, Unilever

Every year, 2 million children don’t live to celebrate their 5th birthday. You can help change that by donating today. Better yet, Unilever will match your donation so it will go twice as far. Go here to donate today and read on to learn more.

PSI 3Every year, 2 million children don’t live to celebrate their 5th birthday. You can help change that by donating today. Better yet, Unilever will match your donation so it will go twice as far. Go here to donate today and read on to learn more.

Chris Mallaband is the Unilever Foundation Global Ambassador for PSI. Chris traveled to Kenya in June 2013 to visit schools participating in the Lifebuoy ‘School of Five’ handwashing program. This is day one of his experience at the schools.

The day I have been especially looking forward to is here. Today we will visit some of the schools in Kenya that follow the Lifebuoy ‘School of Five’ handwashing program. Helping children learn handwashing habits is a noble mission indeed.

Our destination is the Likoni region of Mombasa, stopping off on the way to talk with the Mombasa Ministry of Health before we reach the schools.

After finishing a rapid breakfast, we are off to visit the Ministry. It’s immediately apparent that the Mombasa traffic is just as challenging as that in Nairobi. We spend a lot of time standing still, giving the hawkers plenty of opportunity to stare through our windows and offer us anything from cakes to knives, and fruit to toys. Sadly for them, none of us are up for a deal.

We meet with Dr. Shikily, the Director of Health for the Mombasa region, and her team. Following the recent national elections, Kenya changed from 8 regions to 47 counties; a change in strategic direction perhaps going against the grain of most organizational design you see nowadays. Dr. Shikily explained to us how this has made her life much more complicated to get things done. We then discuss how Unilever, PSI and the Kenyan Government could collaborate further, to enable ever greater positive impact all round.

With the discussions concluded, it is time to tackle the short ferry that shuttles motorists across Kilindini Harbour. The ferry is a renowned bottleneck in the already-suffocated Mombasa transport system and lives up to its reputation. Back on land, our driver Peter skillfully avoids the stray goats and cows on the local roads, and we enter rural Likoni reaching our first school, Bethania Academy.

Bethania is a private school but a relatively inexpensive one. A look around the local community reveals that this is far from the land of milk and honey.

We receive a warm welcome from the headmaster and his pupils, who recited their Lifebuoy ‘School of Five’ pledge to us with wide smiles at an impromptu assembly. Two children in each classroom have the opportunity to be appointed as “Little Doctors” – kind of captains of handwashing practices. The pair has the responsibility to remind their classmates of the key times when they should wash their hands, and how they should do it.

Christine tells me how proud she is to be a little doctor. She kindly walks me from school to her nearby home to meet her family. To my surprise, the house is, in truth, really a few basic rooms within a communal building – certainly a way away from how I might have perceived a private school pupil to live.

Nine dwellings share three basic toilets, and all the rooms are separated with thin curtains. Her father Charles, a salesman, tells me how Christine educated the family on handwashing with soap based on the program that she has followed at school. Now, he, his wife and Christine’s sister all follow the ‘5 key occasions’ rules of washing their hands before the three main meals, after using the toilet and when in the bath.

As we depart, Charles introduces me to his neighbor Patrick. Charles says that he trained Patrick on the benefits of handwashing with soap, and how to do it properly. Here was community transference of behavior change being demonstrated in true community-led style.

After high-fives with many of the pupils at Bethania, it was time to move on to another school in Likoni district and, against the odds, to visit a state school. Despite a national teachers’ walkout, the headteacher of the fantastically-named Inspirations Primary School reported for duty so that she and her pupils have the chance to meet us.

We are ushered to the school hall, absent of seating and lighting. The children proceed to give us their Lifebuoy ‘School of Five’ pledge before a few of them act out a self-written play. The characters show how the learning materials come to life.

Another small group step forward to sing a song to us about the hope and potential that children can bring. Hearing these words sung within the surroundings of the basic facilities in which we stood was truly uplifting.

Inspirations by name and inspirations as pupils.

I greet the children with our thanks and stress the need for them to sustain what they learned. I am delighted when the headteacher tells me, as we leave, that the program has helped to increase school attendance by reducing sickness among the pupils.

Our final stop of the day is one particularly close to my heart. Having provided voluntary sports commentary for blind spectators at cricket matches in the UK for a number of years, I was especially keen to visit Likoni School for the Blind. It is one of only two schools for blind children in Kenya, and was founded in collaboration with the British Salvation Army back in 1965.

The familiar Salvation Army badge still adorns a number of the buildings. It presently has around 150 boarding pupils, with around 20% of these being albino children, for whom life in the country in which they live is an extremely tough challenge. The children here also completed the program, and it was great to see the enthusiasm that they had for the characters and the concept. Once more I spent some time with the ‘little doctors’ at the school.

A boy named Rufus tells me that I too must make sure I wash my hands at all the key times. I promise him that I will, and we shake hands on it.

A busy day behind us, we look forward to a straightforward journey back to our hotel. Just under three hours after we started what we thought would be less than an hour’s drive, we eventually reached it. Enough said.

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A Humble Bar of Soap

By Chris Mallaband, Unilever

Every year, 2 million children don’t live to celebrate their 5th birthday. You can help change that by donating today. Better yet, Unilever will match your donation so it will go twice as far. Go here to donate today and read on to learn more.

PSI 4If you happen to have the dubious pleasure of knowing me in person, you will know there aren’t too many occasions which render me speechless.

Today was one of those rare occasions. And then it happened twice.

After a quick bowl of wimby porridge (a brown-coloured Kenyan specialty made from sorghum), it was time to leave the Voyager Hotel and head inland to the Changamwe region of Mombasa.

We had the opportunity today to make two more visits to local primary schools. At just after 9am we pulled into the entrance leading to St. Irene Primary School in Mikindani. Before we could even see them, we could hear the children, singing joyously in Swahili. As we turned the corner, we could see two lines of multi-coloured shirts, hands clapping in time to the beat, which turned to wild cheering as we got out of the cars.

I can kind of imagine now what it’s like for One Direction when they rock up outside a venue. We walked into the school with the children offering us high-fives from their receiving lines. Just incredible.

Within the school, headteacher Sister Masha gave us a gracious and grateful welcome. We signed the visitor’s book, and were invited to come and formally meet the children in the assembly hall. They sat obediently on the floor; at the back it was standing room only.

Anthony Okoth, Deputy Country Representative from PSI and I both addressed the children, talking to them about the ‘School of Five’ program which they were mid-way through. We tested their knowledge of the five occasions and the characters who represented them. Tens of hands flew into the air within milliseconds of me asking each question. And each one was answered correctly.

After our remarks, we were treated to a song the school wrote about the handwashing program. Eight children stepped forward to the front of the room to sing it directly to us. The joy on their faces from such close range was something which I think I will never forget. Huge smiles and eyes wide with joyful emotion as they sang each verse at the tops of their voices.

Kenya’s Got Talent. And no shortage of spirit.

We then went to see one of the handwashing lessons taking place. The year six pupils watched the ‘glow germ’ demonstration created by Lifebuoy to show the impact of not washing hands with soap. This entails four children having a white powder applied to their hands. Two then rinse their hands with water and two wash them with water and soap.

Upon inspection under a special torch, it is apparent that the hands rinsed with water still have various germs, invisible to the naked eye. The hands washed with soap though, have none.

The children were suitably impressed by the clever technology. As was I! I am learning myself too on this trip that a quick rinse under a cold tap is never good enough….

We said fond farewells, and shared a few more high-fives with the ever-smiling pupils. Next stop was a state school close by. It soon was clear to us that Kipmevu Primary School is a special place.

First, they stayed open today – risking animosity from their fellow striking teachers – to ensure that they could honor our visit. Second, we received another speech-defying welcome. Two lines of pupils greeted us, this time with more of a Swahili chant than a song. Even the teachers joined in!

Andrea Edwards, Manager of Corporate Marketing, from PSI broke into a short dance with one of them as we made our way through the receiving lines. A special bridge-building moment.

Third, there are more than 900 pupils here, ranging from ages 3 to 14. The school is located next to Kalahari, a well-known slum area within the region, where standards of living are at their lowest. Mr. Kombo, the headteacher, told us that 85% of his pupils are from families who live in Kalahari. Some get home after school to find that their parents are absent through arrest. Older ones often become the ‘parents’ to their younger siblings. Mr. Kombo explained that children often miss school or arrive tired because they have been up late selling alcohol for their parents the night before.

An assembly was organized outside on the barren land in the middle of the school buildings. There were a few parents, many carrying babes in arms, in the audience too. Once more, we were treated to a short performance from some of the pupils, enacting a play where the characters who feature in the Lifebuoy ‘School of Five’ comic book are depicted.

The play was performed with gusto. One child gave a particularly convincing imitation of vomiting (the risk if you do not wash your hands with soap), which amused both her fellow pupils and us.

The Lifebuoy ‘School of Five’ pencil cases which we handed out to those who performed in the play were very gratefully received. Despite the circumstances in which these children live, it was clear to see that their enthusiasm was abundant.

I had the chance to chat to Enoch and Jackie, co-incidentally a local health worker, who were two parents of children at the school, to get their perspective. Both were very positive and believed that what their children learned will remain lessons for life.

Even in her profession, Jackie admitted that prior to the Lifebuoy handwashing program coming to the school, she did not use soap on the five occasions that it teaches, and sometimes didn’t even use water.

We said goodbye, and headed to Mombasa Airport, for a quick team lunch. Our friends and colleagues from PSI and the Kenya Ministry of Health were leaving us at this point. A few short speeches were made, and then it was hugs and handshakes all round amid commitments to various streams of follow-up in the coming weeks and months.

We took a group photo, and then Mallika, Stacie, from the Lifebuoy Social Mission team, and I headed into the terminal to fly to Kisumu, and start the next leg of our Kenyan adventure.

The main reason why I wanted to be a Global Foundation Ambassador was to see the work being done on the ground in places like Changamwe and Likoni. My experiences over the past two days have made a deep impact on me. I feel inspired by advocacy on handwashing such as the Help a Child Reach 5 campaign.

The realities of life in these areas have been very apparent, but so has the enthusiasm and energy of those who live here. I am convinced the handwashing program has scalability, and that the behavior change we are trying to drive can be sustained in the regions in which we drive it.

There is hope in my heart that the humble bar of soap, where Unilever first began its journey in 1888 in my own place of work of Port Sunlight, can genuinely be a lifesaver for many years to come. In the first year alone the partnership has reached more than 1 million people. It will continue to be expanded globally to help achieve Lifebuoy’s mission of improving the handwashing behavior by reaching 1 billion people by 2015. But we all need to play our part to make it happen.

Tomorrow the Kericho tea plantations beckon, as the trip takes a turn back towards my day job as it nears its conclusion.

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