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Archive for the ‘Newsletters’ Category

Infant Mortality

Article posted on December - 15 - 2008

The death of a baby is a shattering event. After an arduous pregnancy, usually complicated by malnutrition and a myriad of other health problems, followed by the ordeal of labor, which generally lasts for several days and usually occurs in the absence of skilled birth attendants and any kind of pain relief, too many Gambian mothers must then endure the unthinkable—the death of the very child they suffered for.

According to the annual Mother’s Index, Gambia is amongst the worst places in the world to be a mother. Since mothers and babies are so closely linked, a terrible place to be a mother will also be a terrible place to be an infant. In fact, compared to a mother in the top ten countries (the best of which is Sweden), a mother in the bottom ten countries is 750 times more likely to die in pregnancy or childbirth and 28 times more likely to see her child die in its first year of life.

Clearly, life is not easy for mothers and children in the bottom-ranked countries. Every year, 4 million babies worldwide die in their first month of life, which is roughly equivalent to the number of babies born in the United States each year. For the Gambia, this means that, of approximately 65,000 babies born this past year, 5,000 did not survive.

How can this be? How can we live with these figures? Clearly, we are not the only people asking these questions. Melinda Gates, in “State of the World’s Mothers 2006,” declared the following: “No investment in global health has a greater return than saving the life of a child.”

Most of the babies in the developing world die from absolutely preventable causes. While this is sobering and upsetting, it is also the very fact that gives us hope. If we can get to these children, and if we can prevent what has yet to be prevented, then we can change this horrible reality. According to research presented in the British medical journal The Lancet, most of these young lives could be saved with low-tech, low-cost measures which include clean deliveries attended by skilled personnel, tetanus immunizations for pregnant women, and antibiotics for infections. Exclusive breast-feeding was also recommended. However, breast-feeding is only safe, if the mother is HIV negative, which has been discussed in a previous newsletter.

Currently, Congress seeks to pass new legislation, the CHILD and Newborn Act, which would dramatically reduce the deaths of children worldwide by providing increased funding for basic life-saving tools such as vaccines, vitamins and antibiotics.

“Leadership from the U.S. can and does make an enormous contribution in saving the lives of newborns and young children,” Representative Betty McCollum (D-MN) was quoted as saying.

We care about the lives of children. And because we care, we do our part. It is really very, very simple.

Happy New Year

Article posted on December - 23 - 2006

Happy New Year!

Now that the new year has arrived, we look forward to the months to come, wondering what they might bring us. Many of us have made new year’s resolutions. We have vowed to quit smoking or to take off the extra weight we carry, for instance. Without a doubt, the vast majority of us would like to count on a healthier and happier future, for ourselves and our loved ones.

Perhaps it is time for gratitude as well. Gratitude for our own privileged circumstances and for the incredible fortune of having been born in our part of the world into our lives, instead of some distant place which some might call a “developing country.” How about extending our compassion to reach those not as fortunate as we are? How about including them in our thoughts and efforts?

People all over the world are really more alike than they are different, no matter who they are or where they live.

All of us, all over the world, as different as we may be from one another, share certain desires and needs. We wish to live free from persecution and harm, pray that our children and loved ones are safe and healthy, and that our elders may enjoy their final years with their dignity and health preserved.


Healing Hands of Gambia ®
POB 638 / East Lyme, CT 06333 / USA
POB 2369 / Serekunda / The Gambia
Phone/Fax (860) 739 5986

Breastfeeding Dilemma

Article posted on December - 1 - 2006

“Breastfeeding is best feeding,” so we are told. For many years we have lamented that, with the advent of baby formulas, women have stopped breastfeeding altogether. Particularly in the third world, where hunger and malnutrition are rampant, depriving the children of this most perfect food source has proven to be a disaster, resulting in even further malnutrition and its countless consequences. The international community fought long and hard to reverse this trend, tirelessly educating people in Africa and elsewhere that mother’s milk is superior to all else, and that to deprive their children of it, is to harm them. Then came AIDS.

The vast majority of children infected with the HIV virus obtain the disease from their mothers. This is called “vertical transmission” and generally happens close to or during delivery. However, some of the children are spared and, despite the fact that their mother might have AIDS, do not acquire the virus in this manner. They are, in fact, born, completely healthy. It is one of the twisted cruelties of this disease, then, that the virus is not only found in blood and semen, but also in mother’s milk, in high concentrations at that, so that the very thing a mother does to keep her baby alive may be exactly the thing that kills it.

Because of the AIDS epidemic and because of the fact that AIDS is threatening to swallow up the whole of Africa, our initial efforts to get women to breastfeed have since been replaced with no less fervent efforts to get them to stop– when we know or suspect that HIV is a factor. However, AIDS attaches a stigma to people, especially in Africa, where superstition and misinformation about HIV are abundant. People fear the disease as much as they fear being known to have it. Ironically, we have just managed to get across enough education so that not breastfeeding your child can now signal to an entire village that the mother has been infected with “the virus.” Consequently, instead of receiving help and compassion, mother and child may be cast out, their fate sealed.

Clearly, this is yet another, vast area in which work must be done. In order to remove the stigma, we must work towards HIV no longer being a death sentence, but rather a “chronic illness” as it is now viewed in our world. At the same time, we must continue in our struggle to erase it and to protect as many potential victims as possible. As always, education is key. We must warn people of the risks inherent in common, every day actions, such as being intimate with one’s spouse or breastfeeding one’s baby. Only those who truly know the enemy and how it may strike can truly defend themselves and those they love.

Africa’s children are precious. The future of the entire continent rests on their small shoulders. Let’s make them strong. Let’s keep them healthy. Let’s help them live.

Dr. Ingrid Feder Sidibeh, President & CEO / Excecutive Board of Directors
Ingrid Feder Sidibeh, MD


Malaria is a major killer

Article posted on November - 15 - 2006

“A mother frantically says her son’s name, again and again, in the half-empty acute-care room in a provincial hospital … Her young boy is unconscious with malaria and lies on a bed pushed up against a wall, its paint faded and peeling. When her son does not respond, she begins to softly pat his face with an open hand, desperately hoping to wake him up.” ( Feb 2006)

Malaria is one of the major killers of our time. It kills 3,000 children every day and more than a million people each year. It finds most of its victims in Sub-Saharan Africa, amongst children under the age of five and pregnant women, because of their immature and weakened immune systems, respectively.

The rainy season, which lasts from June to October, strikes new fear into the hearts of the Gambian people every year. Drenched fields and flooded roads act as perfect breeding grounds for mosquitoes. In fact, many villagers suffer hundreds of bites from infected mosquitoes every season.

According to the Swiss Tropical Institute, “By the time you’re five years old, you’ve been exposed to so much malaria and you’ve had so many malaria attacks that you’ve either developed life-protecting immunity or you haven’t made it.”

Malaria is described not only as a disease of poverty but also as a major cause of poverty. On one hand, poverty is the primary prohibitive force preventing timely prophylaxis and treatment. On the other hand, people remain ensnared in poverty due to the significant long-term neurological and other health consequences, which all too often result from non-fatal malaria, coupled with the loss of productivity and schooling from severe, repetitive illness. Malaria can truly hold an entire country hostage.

Funding for malaria prevention and treatment continues to be a problem. It is estimated that approximately $3 billion a year are needed to fight the disease. This is a frightening statement. So, what are we to do? How can we give hope to the mother in the paragraph above and thousands upon thousands like her?

“Now is the accepted time, not tomorrow, not some more convenient season.
It is today that our best work can be done and not some future day or future year.
It is today that we fit ourselves for the greater usefulness of tomorrow.
Today is the seed time, now are the hours of work, and tomorrow comes the harvest and the playtime.”


Good idea! Let’s join together and get to work, shall we?

Dr. Ingrid Feder Sidibeh, President & CEO / Excecutive Board of Directors
Ingrid Feder Sidibeh, MD


Saving Lives of Mothers

Article posted on November - 1 - 2006

“The miracle of life means death for too many mothers in the developing world. Every minute a woman dies because of complications in pregnancy and childbirth.” According to the World Health Organization this adds up to about 600,000 maternal deaths per year, the vast majority of which occur in Africa. In essence, African women are three times as likely to die in childbirth as women in the developed world.

These are terrible odds. Too many women are dying, and the reasons for this are numerous. Recently, a study on reproductive health in the Gambia looked at the disparity between developed and developing countries as far as maternal mortality is concerned. The study found that, particularly in rural areas, it is difficult, if not impossible to reach expert obstetric care in a timely fashion once a complication has been identified. But even if a patient can make it to a hospital — which is not likely given the state of the roads and the lack of access to transportation — prompt medical care may still not be available, it may be woefully inadequate, or it may already be too late.

“Ensuring the survival of future generations is one of the most urgent problems facing Africa. That means saving the lives of both mothers and their babies.” This quote originates from an article on in a series called “Africa: Portraits of Poverty.” Beyond a doubt, education and training are desperately needed and are of utmost importance in finding a solution for this terrible state of affairs.

Expectant mothers must learn that medical care during pregnancy is an absolute necessity — but they must also learn to trust that help will be available when they need it. And for this trust to be deserved, many more people must be trained in midwifery, equipped with life-saving medications, and stationed in the most remote areas. In addition, hospitals or clinics with the capability of performing Cesarean-sections must be established all over the country.

In fact, this is our vision for the Gambia. Only when this has been accomplished, can motherhood be a completely joyous event instead of just another reason for suffering and mourning. It will then truly be a celebration of life.

Dr. Ingrid Feder Sidibeh, President & CEO / Excecutive Board of Directors
Ingrid Feder Sidibeh, MD


Thoughts on Poverty

Article posted on October - 15 - 2006

Today my thoughts are wrapped around poverty and the way it robs people of hope and the opportunity to rise above the challenges of our world and time.

According to the 2004 Human Development Index, the Gambia is one of the poorest nations in the world, ranking 155 out of 177. It has been estimated that the vast majority of its population exists on less than $2 a day with the majority of those having to live on less than $1 a day. This unimaginable poverty has major implications for the nation’s health. The Gambia, it has been said, is a sub-Saharan “country under siege from the combined pressure of poverty and disease.”

Therefore, most families must spend whatever dalasi they may have on items necessary for survival, such as food, clothing and shelter. Often this leaves no money for medical care and medications, causing much hardship and unnecessary suffering.

An opinion paper in The Daily Observer, called “Gambia: In the Hope of a Better Tomorrow” and published earlier this month, stated that “the perennial problem[s] in Africa such as hunger, diseases, poor governance, and the control of wealth by the minority have made life in Africa almost unlivable.”

It is high time, I think, that we help to change the odds in favor of the people—finally. People should not have to suffer and die—unseen, unheard, unnoticed—just because they cannot afford to be seen by a doctor, amongst other things. Conditions must change, and we must be a part of it.

“I am gravely concerned with the global situation where people are unhappy, terrified and hungry. I wish there were a much bigger way I would help…,” the writer of the opinion paper declared. We agree with him, and, yes, we are very concerned, as well. Luckily, we can and will do something about it.

Dr. Ingrid Feder Sidibeh, President & CEO / Excecutive Board of Directors
Ingrid Feder Sidibeh, MD


HIV Curriculum

Article posted on October - 3 - 2006

A few weeks have passed since our last newsletter. The donated copies of the “HIV Curriculum for the Health Professional,” which we received through the generosity of the Baylor International Pediatric Aids Initiative, are on their way to the Gambia. At the same time, the Gambia is beginning to open its eyes to the relentless and devastating threat of HIV.

Yesterday, at the opening ceremony of the national workshop on HIV/AIDS organized by The Department of State for Education in the Gambia, Dr. Ajaratou Njie-Saidy, Vice President and Secretary of State for Women’s Affairs, spoke of the devastating prevalence of HIV/AIDS in Sub-Saharan Africa, where approximately 26.6 million people are believed to live with the disease. Yet, personal risk perception in the Gambia, especially among young people, is significantly skewed such that many people still do not understand how to avoid exposure and infection. Even among school-aged children, she explains, high-risk behaviors are so prevalent, that appropriate education should be integrated directly into the school curriculum. Clearly, much work must be done in this regard — and we could not agree with her more!

On a different note — the post office responsible for our address has accidentally misplaced the appropriate paper work and, therefore, in their infinite wisdom, temporarily closed our post office box. The problem has since been rectified and apologies by the U.S. postal service have been given ….. If anyone reading this newsletter tried to send anything to us and had their mail returned to them, please, kindly send it again. We are truly sorry for this inconvenience which, fortunately, was brought to our attention sooner rather than later. Still, I will suggest to the responsible postal clerks that a small donation to Healing Hands would not be an unreasonable way to make up for their error….

Dr. Ingrid Feder Sidibeh, President & CEO / Excecutive Board of Directors
Ingrid Feder Sidibeh, MD


First newsletter

Article posted on September - 16 - 2006

This is our first newsletter for Healing Hands. Our project is moving along wonderfully. While we are still waiting for our official paperwork to be approved by the IRS, we are by no means idle.

In February of 2007, we (our Vice President, Dawda Sidibeh, our Secretary & Treasurer, Ida Amaral, and myself) will fly to the Gambia where I am scheduled to give a lecture on “HIV/AIDS in Africa” to the medical students in Banjul. We have been fortunate to receive a donation of 70 copies of the “HIV Curriculum for the Health Professional” which was published by the Baylor International Pediatric Aids Initiative (BIPAI) in conjunction with the Baylor School of Medicine. We are extremely grateful for their kindness, and we are sure the Gambian medical students will be as well. BIPAI has further agreed to train several of our Gambian doctors in HIV/AIDS at one of their Clinical Centers of Excellence, most likely in Botswana or Burkina Faso, so that they can then bring their knowledge back home to the Gambia. This will be discussed further in a future newsletter.

During the same trip, I am scheduled to work at the Gambian public hospitals where I will be joined by my dear friend, Dr. Aida Becker, with whom I have worked for many years and who is one of the best people I know. The Gambia is truly fortunate to have Dr. Becker say “yes” to working with us!

Dr. Ingrid Feder Sidibeh, President & CEO / Excecutive Board of Directors
Ingrid Feder Sidibeh, MD


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