January Is Birth Defects Prevention Month: Are Local Health Departments Ready?

Q&A with NACCHO Board Member Sandra Elizabeth Ford, MD, MPH
Director of the DeKalb County Board of Health

A baby is born with a birth defect in the United States every 4.5 minutes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Birth defects are defined as any structural changes present at birth that affect how the body looks, works, or both, and they can vary from mild to severe. While not all birth defects can be prevented, there are concrete steps pregnant mothers can take to increase the chances of giving birth to a healthy baby.  In honor of National Birth Defects Prevention Month, the CDC released a resource guide providing pregnant moms tips for preventing birth defects.

In addition to guidance provided by CDC, many local public health departments provide prenatal care for expectant moms. Below is Q&A with National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO) Board Member Dr. Sandra Elizabeth Ford, Director of the DeKalb County Board of Health in Georgia.  NACCHO represents the nation’s 3,000 local health departments.

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Can Fitbit Help Kids Gain Steps and Lose Weight?

Around 17 percent of American children from age 2 to 19 are classed as “obese”. That’s a level that has remained fairly steady over the last decade. And it’s growing.

Obesity is measured in terms of Body Mass Index (BMI) – a measure that can be used to compare children in terms of their weight. BMI is calculated by dividing a person’s weight in kilograms by the square of their height in meters. For children and teens, BMI is so age- and gender-specific that it is referred to as BMI-for-age. BMI levels among children and teens need to be expressed relative to other children of the same age and gender. Every child is different and that makes it difficult to generalize on something like this.

heart-rate-monitoring-device-1903997_1280Overweight is defined as a BMI at or above the 85th percentile and below the 95th percentile for children and teens of the same age and gender. Obesity is defined as a BMI at or above the 95th percentile for children and teens of the same age and gender.

To give an illustration, a 10-year-old boy of average height (56 inches) who weighs 102 pounds would have a BMI of 22.9 kg/m2. He would be considered obese because this calculation puts him in the 95th percentile for BMI-for-age. His BMI is greater than the BMI of 95% of 10-year-old boys in his “reference population”.

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How World Vision Promotes Breastfeeding in the Philippines

I am always happy when World Breastfeeding Week rolls around each year. It gives me a chance to hear about the latest programs that are working around the world to increase breastfeeding rates. This year I learned about how World Vision is promoting breastfeeding in the Philippines through its 7-11 Core Intervention Framework which includes 7 interventions for women and 11 for children 0 – 24 months of age.

The way in which we discuss breastfeeding is different depending on the country and the context. While in the United States we talk a lot about infant feeding choices, in other countries, especially those that have thousands upon thousands of yearly infant deaths caused by diarrheal diseases, infections, and sub-optimal feeding, the context changes. In these cases, it is nearly always critical that mothers breastfeed their children up to two years of age.

In the Philippines, parents spend $240 million on breast milk substitutes and multinational formula feeding companies spend $100 million on marketing in the Philippines alone. Those numbers account for the fact that only 34% of infants under the age of six months are exclusively breastfed. While providing the best start in life for infants, many mothers are convinced that formula is better and easier for their lifestyles. But, often times women in low-and-middle-income countries like the Philippines do not always have access to clean water for formula. Dirty water can cause deadly diarrheal diseases that kill infants.

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Three African Countries Chosen for First Malaria Vaccine Trials

For decades, there has been consistent chatter, research, and hope for a potential malaria vaccine. Now, all three are finally coming to fruition to roll out the world’s first clinical malaria vaccine trials. The World Health Organization Regional Office for Africa (WHO/AFRO) announced today that Ghana, Kenya, and Malawi have been chosen for the WHO-coordinated pilot implementation program that will make the world’s first malaria vaccine … Continue reading Three African Countries Chosen for First Malaria Vaccine Trials

Residents in Southern Haiti Receive New Access to Quality Health Care

Several vistors wait to be seen at new hospital (1)During my visit to Haiti two years ago I had the privilege of visiting two hospitals: L’Hôpital Albert Schweitzer (HAS) in Haiti’s Artibonite Valley and L’Hôpital Sainte-Thérèse in Hinche, Haiti. Many of the patients at both hospitals, I learned, walked or took public transport over long distances for quality hospital care. As the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, Haitians need many more hospitals and health workers to care after their sick. There are currently only six health workers for every 10,000 Haitians according to USAID. And, Haiti has the highest rate of infant, child, and maternal mortality in the Western Hemisphere. Most Haitians live on less than $1 a day and their life expectancy is only 64 compared to 74 for its neighbor, the Dominican Republic.

Quality health care in Haiti continues to be one of the country’s greatest problems. In fact, Haiti only spends 6 percent of its expenditures on health care and relies heavily on international funding.

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The Priceless Reaction of a Baby Being Vaccinated #Haiti

As I watched baby after baby receive the pentavalent (5-in-1) vaccine at a mobile health post put on by Hôpital Albert Schweitzer (HAS) in Haiti this week, their reactions were all the same. First, they were oblivious to what was going on. Then, they all felt a momentary prick of pain and the waterworks began.

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Even though each of the babies experienced short-lived pain, they are now protected against diphtheria, pertussis and tetanus (thus replacing the former diphtheria, pertussis, and tetanus vaccine), hepatitis B and Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib), which causes pneumonia and meningitis.

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Reporting From Haiti This Week

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This week I am traveling around Haiti reporting on global health issues that affect women and children. In fact, I am writing this post in the back of a SUV with my fixer and translator headed south of Port-au-Prince to visit Social Good Moms’ partner, Midwives for Haiti.

In the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere there are still many challenges that persist in both maternal and child health in Haiti. While malaria cases are relatively in check across the nation there were 15 confirmed cases of Dengue fever in Deschappelles over the past two weeks — all children!

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