We undertook the ‘Every Child Thrives’ program with the financial support of the Government of Canada provided through Global Affairs Canada. We delivered it in partnership with Helen Keller International and Vitamin Angels. This program aimed to reduce child mortality in Côte d’Ivoire and Kenya from 2016-2020. To do this, we addressed the two major causes of disease and death for children under 5: vitamin A deficiency and soil-transmitted helminths (intestinal worms).
The program was so successful, reaching 7 million preschoolers, that the Canadian Government provided additional funding to continue work during the COVID-19 pandemic for one more year in Kenya (through 2021). Collaborating with partners across the health systems, including governments, it’s clear that the legacy of this program will be substantial for the health of both nations.
Global Affairs Canada Highlights ‘Every Child Thrives’
In Spring 2020, Global Affairs Canada released their 2019-2020 report to Parliament. This report begins, “Every human being deserves the opportunity to live a peaceful and prosperous life—regardless of gender, age, ethnicity or where they live. Canadians strongly believe that everyone should be able to benefit from equal access to education, health care, food and nutrition….”
To action this statement, Global Affairs Canada partnered with Canadian organizations, including Effect Hope on the ‘Every Child Thrives’ initiative. Through this partnership, along with Helen Keller International and Vitamin Angels, we aimed to reduce mortality in early childhood in sub-Saharan Africa. In fact, the Report to Parliament highlighted the ‘Every Child Thrives’ program and the impact this initiative had in the lives of millions of Kenyan and Ivorian preschoolers.
In collaboration with local and national governments in Kenya and Côte d’Ivoire, we addressed the silent killers of children under 5: parasitic worms and vitamin A deficiency. These almost invisible worms – soil-transmitted helminths (STH) – are responsible for 1.5 billion infections globally. Kids get infected just by walking across contaminated ground.
Lives Improved: Irene & Maina
Irene and Maina were worried. Their children were not well. ‘’My three-year-old daughter had no appetite for food. Despite my forcing her to eat, she refused. She only took fluids and snacks. This situation was really giving me a hard time as my daughter’s weight was also going down.’’ The same was true for her 19-month-old son.
During a regular check-up at a local health facility, the doctor told Irene that her children might have intestinal worms. Intestinal worms are a common parasitic infection for children under 5 in Irene’s community in Kenya.
Intestinal worms steal vital nutrients from a child’s body. Without critical nourishment, a child’s physical and cognitive development are compromised. People with worms don’t feel well. They struggle to concentrate and lack the energy to do much. Some may also experience complications like blindness and even death. Unfortunately, intestinal worms are a silent problem. The symptoms are not always obvious, but the damage can be life-threatening.
Therefore, the ‘Every Child Thrives’ program provided de-worming treatment and vitamin A supplements to Irene and Maina’s kids, along with other children under 5 years old in their community.
The couple was relieved when their children’s health improved after treatment, ‘’I am now happy as the health status of my children is good and has improved. Their appetite has also improved, and their weight is better. Last month I took my one-year-old child for his clinics and there was an improvement in his weight count,’’ said Irene. ‘’Furthermore, my three-year-old daughter, who is in nursery school, is also eating well. Her health is better! She is even performing well in class and her grades are good.”
As of March 2020, Effect Hope and partners had completed 14 mass drug-administration campaigns with the ministries of health in both Côte d’Ivoire and Kenya. These campaigns provided 7,072,840 children under 5 years with vitamin A supplements and de-worming treatments. This interventin helped reduce their risk of intestinal worm infections and malnutrition. They will have the chance to grow strong and healthy.
The impact is clear: 7 million children will go to school healthy without parasites depleting their energy and limiting their growth and development. With an education, these children have a better chance of disrupting the cycle of poverty.
Acknowledging this success, the Government of Canada provided Effect Hope with funding to continue these essential treatments in Kenya for one more year during the COVID-19 pandemic. While COVID-19 created some barriers initially, with Helen Keller International and the Kenya Ministry of Health, the ‘Every Child Thrives’ project follows COVID-19 prevention measures to deliver treatment and keep all involved safe.
Overall, the project promotes equal access to health interventions by all children, regardless of gender or ability level.