Wednesday, February 21 , 2018, 10:00 am | Fair 55º


Judy Foreman: As Ebola Crisis Spreads, Direct Relief Proving that Partnerships Matter

Susan Craven of U.N. Population Fund provides key insights on outbreak for Direct Relief Women, Global Neighborhood Fund

On a recent morning, more than 100 guests from the all-volunteer ranks of Direct Relief Women and Global Neighborhood Fund got together to hear a compelling and timely presentation on the Ebola crisis.

The presentation was made by Susan Craven, director of the Washington office of the U.N. Population Fund, which promotes health and equal opportunity for men, women and children around the world.

With Ebola dominating the news, and now having reached the United States, Craven’s update was a much-anticipated event. The PowerPoint presentation and Q&A was focused on the Ebola outbreak’s effects on women’s health in western Africa and, specifically, the needs of pregnant women and mothers and infants.

The UNPF estimates that more than 800,000 women in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone will give birth in the next 12 months. As many as 120,000 of them could die of complications of pregnancy and childbirth, if life-saving emergency obstetric care is not provided.

Craven said that in her travels to the hardest-hit countries like Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, residents say “Ebola is worse than war!”

They feel that, in a war zone, they could touch and feel what was happening to them, she said, but “Ebola is striking in the dark.”

Ebola is also becoming known as the “caretakers’ disease,” she said. Mothers and grandmothers, doctors and nurses and midwives — all on the front lines of the epidemic — are putting themselves in harm’s way to try to confront the outbreak and are contracting the deadly virus themselves.

The educational meeting at The Orfaela Foundation Downtown Center included a multitude of disturbing statistics reflecting shortages of supplies, personnel and facilities. The lack of physicians and sterile facilities, and cultural customs for disposing of the dead, are putting these countries into further chaos, Craven said.

After a prolonged civil war, Liberia has been successfully rebuilding its infrastructure and economy under its first woman president, Ellen Johnson Sirleif. But the country is now experiencing a setback, particularly the progress that has been made for safe motherhood.

Among the goals of the U.N. Population Fund is to help pregnant women deliver their children in a sterile environment. (Direct Relief photo)
Among the goals of the U.N. Population Fund is to help pregnant women deliver their children in a sterile environment. (Direct Relief photo)

Part of the intervention process and nation partnering is for long-term help that includes social guidance in planned parenting with education about birth control spacing and incentives to keep girls in school, which cuts down on teen pregnancy.

Craven said the UNPF is laser-focused on strengthening the health implications for pregnant women and helping them deliver in a sterile environment. Because of a shortage of doctors and hospitals, she said, one in 10 women dies in childbirth and 16 million adolescent girls get pregnant each year.

Haley Jessup, Direct Relief’s development officer, and Connie Smith, a founder of the Global Neighborhood Fund, also spoke to the volunteers about the nonprofits organizations’ work.

“As the world intensifies its response to the Ebola crises, Direct Relief has delivered to West Africa the largest shipment of supplies in its history,” Jessup said.

Jessup closed the meeting with the announcement of an Oct. 30 open house at Direct Relief’s “warehouse by the railroad tracks in Goleta.”

The Global Neighborhood Fund is also open to new members. The all-volunteer collective started four years ago by Smith, Nancy Koppleman and Sandra Tyler is a “giving group” providing grassroots organizations in Liberia with grants. Among the areas served are women’s economic empowerment, early childhood education, gender-based violence, services for women and girls, rural health, rural water and the Liberian Fistula Care Project.

Craven quoted Margaret Mead, who is credited with the saying “never underestimate the power of human individuals to change the world.”

Agencies like the UNPA, Direct Relief and Global Neighborhood Fund have taken Mead’s words to heart. They are partnering with as many countries and agencies as they can to provide funds, personnel and actual commodities like gloves, masks, chlorine bleach, birth control, and dignity kits for women who are giving birth at an alarmingly early age, contracting Ebola and passing it on to their unborn children.

Click here for more information about Direct Relief, or call 805.964.4767. Click here to contact the Global Neighborhood Fund, or call 805.963.1873.

— Judy Foreman is a Noozhawk columnist and longtime local writer and lifestyles observer. She can be contacted at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Click here for previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.

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